The head honcho of heated milk, Parmigiano-Reggiano, is one of the oldest cheeses in the world and is protected – like many Italian delicacies – by strict rules around its production. The only cheese that can use the name Parmigiano-Reggiano (or in fact even the name parmesan, in the EU) must be made from raw milk from the areas of Parma or Reggio Emilia, and certain parts of Modena, Mantua, and Bologna.
Parmigiano is made in large wheels, each imprinted with the name, factory, and date of production. The wheels are brined for around 20 days (in a solution with the same salinity as the Mediterranean Sea, in fact) then stored on shelves for a minimum of 12 months, with subsequent age profiles stretching up to more than 40 months. Each wheel is inspected and graded before it leaves the factory.
Parmigiano-Reggiano has umami, sharp, fruity and nutty flavour and slightly gritty texture, with small crystals that offer extra wee bursts of flavour.
While shaving Parmigiano over pasta and risotto will never go out of style, there are other less obvious ways this noble cheese can be put to good use.
- Add it, finely grated, to the blender or processor when whipping up dips such as beetroot and cashew, pea and almond, caramelised onion and creme fraiche.
- Save the rind or ‘heel’ of a wedge and add it to the pot when making stock, or to a slow-cooked beef casserole, to impart flavour.
- Add it finely grated to a crumb blend with herbs, to coat vegetables (celeriac, parsnip, or cauliflower are amazing here) or chicken before baking.
- Make the savoury snack to rule them all: Parmigiano crisps. Simply flatten out tablespoons of grated Parmigiano onto a baking sheet and bake till crisp – add other seasonings or additions as you like, such as sesame seeds, herbs and spices.
- Make a savoury shortbread with grated Parmigiano and white pepper – a luxurious carrier for fruit pastes, chutney and yet more cheese!
- For a simple yet sensational supper, liberally cover sliced sourdough with grated Parmigiano and grill till bubbling, to dunk into soup.
- Make slits all over the outside of a leg or shoulder of lamb and poke shards of Parmigiano half-cloves of garlic inside before roasting.