Parmesan is the name by which Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is known, an Italian cooked pressed cheese made from the milk of Reggiana cows and specifically in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. But other similar cheeses are often sold under the « Parmesan » name, although they are not protected by a designation of origin label. This is the case of Grana Padano, which has less stringent production conditions controlling either the breed of cows or their feed (for true Parmesan, cows must be fed only on grass and grain), or the production or maturing process, which are mostly on an industrial scale. There are, however, excellent Grana Padano cheeses.
Parmesan is produced between the months of April and mid-November, while Grana Padano is produced throughout the year. It should be a pale, straw yellow color, with a granular and crumbly texture, but not cracked. If it is a golden yellow color, it was probably made from summer milk. The quality of genuine Parmesan, Parmigiano-Reggiano, cheese is guaranteed by its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. The length of aging affects its flavor. Parmigiano-Reggiano can be aged up to ten years. It will then have a more pronounced and biting flavor. It is sold by the piece, but also in powder form that enables it to be incorporated into certain dishes (pasta, risotto). It should be grated at the time of use to preserve its flavors intact.
Parmesan cheese can be eaten thinly sliced, grated, or powdered, depending on the dish.
Parmesan cheese can be used in a great many Italian dishes: sprinkled over a pizza or spaghetti, in a risotto, or in minestrone. Finely sliced, it is a good accompaniment for asparagus drizzled with olive oil.
In pieces, it can be kept for two to three months in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap (cling film). If purchased in powder form, refer to the expiration date.
Parmesan cheese is high in calcium and phosphorous, but it contains a lot of fat (30 percent in the finished product) and salt.