What is parmesan?
Parmesan is a straw-coloured thick cheese with a natural yellow rind and rich, fruity taste. It is made from cow’s milk.
Italy’s Parmigiano Reggiano is the original parmesan, although related versions and models can now be found from Argentina, Australia and the US.
However, the sensitive Italian version remains superior, blowing a ripe yellow interior, granular surface and unbeatable flavour.
This is partly due to a long maturing time of about two years, rather than the minimum 12 months needed. Authentic Italian parmesan has ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ marked on the rind.
It also has protected designations of origin (PDO) status.
Which means that you cannot call extra cheese parmesan unless it comes from the specific region in Italy, and has been made by the traditional methods.
Parmesan is one of the traditional foods, along with truffles, mushrooms and miso, that elicits umami savouriness on your tastebuds.
How to prepare parmesan
Pare, chop or grate as needed. If serving it on a cheeseboard, take it out of the fridge 1-2 hrs before so that the character and aroma have time to develop.
How to cook parmesan
Grate over pasta or do to create pasta sauces scatter thin shavings over salads, use to make pesto or serve as a dessert cheese with figs or pears.
Spice up your greens with Gary Rhode’s parmesan broccoli, get parmesan wafers to serve in a restaurant-style starter or on a quiche.
Parmesan roasties take the little crispy spud to the next level or add parmesan to dumplings in this sausage & parmesan cobbler.
For more recipe motivation, see our parmesan collection.
How to store parmesan
Keep wrapped in baking parchment and store in the fridge for around two months.
If the cheese happens some mould on the surface, just scrape it off; the cheese below should still be good to eat.
Availability of parmesan
Parmesan is available all year round.
Choose the best parmesan
Parmesan swiftly loses its taste when it’s grated, so try to avoid buying it pre-grated in containers or bags, as it will bear no relation to how it should extraordinarily taste.
Always buy parmesan in a chunk from which you can cut at home as required. If possible, buy it from a place where you can see the piece being cut from the perfect cheese.
Genuine Parmigiano Reggiano should have its name imprinted on the rind, as well as the year it was made. If it was made for shipping it will also bear the name of the farmer. Avoid any parmesan that seems grey or waxy.
Parmesan is sold at various stages of the moving process. Giovane is the youngest at 14-18 months, Vecchio is grown for 18 months to two years, stravecchio for two to three years and the extra-mature stravecchione for three to four years.
The more mature the cheese is, the more valuable; younger cheeses are more reasons to cook with, while the deeper flavour of older parmesan is best appreciated when eaten as fresh cheese. As with all cheeses, buy little and often, so that the cheese is ever at its best.
Parmesan is made with regular rennet, which is a set of enzymes extracted from animal’s stomachs that splits the cheese curds from the whey. This means it isn’t strictly a vegetarian protein foods product.
Vegetarian versions of parmesan can be obtained in supermarkets and markets, although cannot be called parmesan – they are labelled as Italian hard cheese.