There is no such thing as parmesan cheese in Italy. That's an American name for a cheese made with potassium sorbate to protect flavor, and cellulose powder to prevent caking. Newsflash: Italian Parmigiano Reggiano doesn't need flavor protectors or enhancers because it's got intense real flavor. It doesn't need an anti-caking agent because unlike American parmesan, it isn't born powdered. Parmigiano Reggiano comes in a solid 80-pound wheel, so you can buy a wedge and grate it fresh or shave it into slices on top of a salad.
Parmigiano Reggiano has been made the same way for the last 800 years, and in the same place. Like the terroir that contributes to a fine wine, true Parmigiano Reggiano can only be produced in a small area around Parma in northern Italy. There, the special combination of climate, geography, and soil composition are unique, found nowhere else in the world. That is why Parmigiano-Reggiano is a protected name -- a DOP. To be able to put the words "Parmigiano-Reggiano" on the rind, the milk has to be from cows fed a specific type of local hay, never corn. Then it is aged a minimum of 12 months, an average of two years.
Parmigiano Reggiano is wildly nutritious, rich in protein and calcium. This is a dense cheese made from partly skim milk. The aging process results in a cheese with a very low water content, so a little goes a long way. The average amount of Parmigiano Reggiano that you would grate over a dish of pasta, 2-3 tablespoons -- between 1/3 and 1/2 an ounce -- has more protein than a serving of chicken, according to the Oxford Companion to Italian Food.
But you can do so much more with it than just grate it over pasta. You can add zing to any soup, especially a nice cold-weather vegetable minestrone, or even chicken soup, by sprinkling a little Parmigiano Reggiano on top just before serving. In pesto, a good Parmigiano Reggiano can make the difference between so-so and oh wow! Add some Parmigiano Reggiano to the ground meat when you're making meatloaf, along with Italian-style herbed bread crumbs, and presto! ? Meatloaf Italiano.
Only one thing could be better than Parmigiano Reggiano -- Red Cow Parmigiano Reggiano. This is made from the milk of the rare Red Cows -- Vacche Rosse (pronounced VAH-kay ROW-say) -- a historic breed of Italian cattle that were pulled back from the brink of extinction. It is higher in protein and butterfat and is aged longer than regular Parmigiano Reggiano. This would be an extraordinary finish to a meal or on a cheese plate with a bit of aged balsamic vinegar drizzled on top.
Weight: Approx. 1lb