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Parmigiano-Reggiano : Interesting Facts and Pairing Ideas

In our series of articles on interesting facts and pairing ideas, for different types of cheese, the next cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano, a hard granular cheese prized for its culinary versatility and nicknamed 'The King of Cheeses', but its name is often used generically for various simulations of this cheese in the Unites States, although prohibited in the European Economic Area under European law.

An aged authentic parmigiano-reggiano cheese
An aged authentic parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Interesting Facts

  1. Parmigiano-Reggiano is named after the producing areas, which comprise the entire provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and portions of the provinces of Bologna, to the west of the river Reno and the area to the south of the Po River in Mantova, Lombardy.
  2. Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labelled 'Parmigiano-Reggiano', and European law classifies the name, as well as the translation 'Parmesan', as a protected designation of origin.
  3. Parmigiano means 'of or from Parma' and Reggiano means 'of or from Reggio' a reference to the two cities in north-central Italy which are at the geographic heart of the production of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
  4. It is made from unpasteurized cow's milk raised in its delimited zone. Traditionally, cows have to be fed only on grass or hay, producing grass fed milk.
  5. Parmigiano-Reggiano is allowed to contain only four very simple natural ingredients: milk, natural whey culture as a starter, rennet, which is a natural enzyme from calf intestine and salt.
  6. Salt is the only additive allowed, which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated with Mediterranean sea salt.
  7. After brining, the cheese is allowed to mature naturally for an average of 24 months.
  8. Parmigiano-Reggiano is an excellent source of protein, vitamin and mineral. Since it is quickly digestible, dieticians often recommend it for children and the elderly.

Pairing Ideas

Parmigiano-Reggiano has a strong pronounced flavor, granular texture, slight fruity taste, and a mild nutty flavor. With aging, it develops a deep savory flavor, a fruity, nutty taste and a crunchy texture.

Cheese tasting
Cheese tasting

What to Serve with Parmigiano-Reggiano

Parmigiano-Reggiano is generally used as a condiment for prepared foods and salads, rather than being eaten by itself on a cheese plate. Grated or shaved, it is a stable of the Italian cuisine, being added to pasta dishes, polenta, soups and vegetables.

The cheese also pairs well with fruits, typically grapes and berries. It can also be eaten on its own, if you enjoy its complex flavor, and sometimes with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar, especially from Modena.

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with its pronounced, complex flavor and nutty taste can be paired with beer, wine or whiskey, but the pairing will depend on the age of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The important aspect of pairing is to achieve balance of flavor, as the cheese should not overpower the drink or the drink should not bury the flavor of the cheese. The flavor descriptors in a Parmigiano-Reggiano such as nutty, or fruity are also found in different beers and whiskies hence the pairing can complement each other.

Pairing Parmigiano-Reggiano and Beer

Parmigiano-Reggiano pairs well with brown ales or amber ales, which have a nutty, caramel flavor. It also goes well with Pale Ales with balanced hops and fruitiness that match the profile of the cheese.

The complexity of an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano goes well with a stronger and maltier doppelbock, strong brown ales or a bourbon-barrel-aged porter.

Pairing Parmigiano-Reggiano and Wine

Parmigiano-Reggiano with its mild nutty flavor and fruity taste is a good pairing with Champagne, or Italian sparking wines like Prosecco and Lambrusco, crisp white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or wines with medium acidity and a bit of sweetness, such as an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer.

For pairing with red wines, pick those with a good fruit profile like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chianti, Barbera or Barolo.

An aged Parmigiano-Reggiano with a more complex nutty flavor goes well with a Riesling or a slightly chilled Tawny Port wine, which nicely complements the salty, hard cheese.

Pairing Parmigiano-Reggiano and Whiskey

Parmigiano-Reggiano pairs well with a single malt scotch from Speyside because of its combination of nutty and fruit flavor. An aged Parmigiano-Reggiano goes well with an aged bourbon or rye whiskey or a Highland scotch with more intense flavors.

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