Parmigiano-Reggiano vs Parmesan

The main differences between parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano are their aging processes and how their ingredients are regulated. For a cheese to be classified as Parmigiano-Reggiano, it must come from particular regions of Italy and contain only certain approved ingredients. Parmigiano-Reggiano is also aged at least one year and up to three years. Parmesan, on the other hand, is not regulated, and may be aged as little as 10 months.

Shop All Parmesan Cheese

When you're trying to find the best cheese for pizza or your signature pasta dish, it's important to know what makes each cheese unique. Find out what makes these cheeses different and why some people say that parmesan is simply an imitation of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Parmesan Cheese in Italy

Parmigiano-Reggiano aging

The laws that regulate Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy are called DOP laws, or Denominazione di Origine Protetta laws. The DOP laws determine exactly where Parmigiano-Reggiano has to be made and where its ingredients originate. This area includes the Parma, Modena, and Reggio Emilia regions, with some areas of Bologna and Mantua also included. In the European Union, “parmesan” is accepted as a translation of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Within these countries, the two terms refer to the same cheese.

What is Parmigiano-Reggiano Made of?

DOP laws restrict Parmigiano-Reggiano’s ingredients to skimmed cow’s milk, salt, and an enzyme called rennet for curdling.

What is the Purpose of DOP Laws?

DOP laws exist in order to preserve traditional methods and ensure consistent quality from product to product. They are similar to the laws that regulate what is classified as Neapolitan pizza in Naples, Italy.

Parmesan Cheese in the United States

Outside of the European Union, parmesan does not refer to the same cheese as Parmigiano-Reggiano. In America, parmesan cheese is a different product because it is not subject to DOP regulations. This being said, parmesan is often considered an alternative to or imitation of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Because of Parmigiano-Reggiano's precise requirements, not many cheesemakers produce it. As a result, Parmigiano-Reggiano is relatively expensive. Parmesan, on the other hand, offers a similar flavor profile and texture at a lower price point because of its unrestricted production processes.

How is Parmesan Cheese Made?

how parmesan cheese is made

The methods for making parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano are similar. Here is a basic process cheesemakers follow:

  1. Fresh cow’s milk is allowed to sit until the cream rises to the top.
  2. The cream is skimmed off the top, and the remaining milk is combined with whole milk.
  3. Rennet (an enzyme that naturally occurs in calves) is added to produce soft curds.
  4. The curds cook for some time until they settle together at the bottom of the cooking vessel.
  5. The mass made from the curds is raised out of the liquid, cut, and put into wheel molds.
  6. The wheels then soak in a brining solution for anywhere from 20-25 days.
  7. After brining, the wheels sit in a maturing room to age for 1-3 years for Parmigiano-Reggiano and a minimum of 10 months for parmesan.
  8. Once fully aged, the cheese will be prepared for selling. If it is Parmigiano-Reggiano, the wheel will be marked with the cheese's signature branding.

Parmigiano-Reggiano and parmesan are both flavorful cheese with the perfect texture for grating over pasta, into sauces, or on top of pizza. Which cheese is best for you depends upon your budget and how robust of a flavor you would like to incorporate into your dish, but parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano can help you achieve a similar final product. Incorporate parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano into your trendy charcuterie board offerings for a classic element on a novel appetizer.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips|By Christine Potts
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