Parmesan Cheese — what is it and how do you use it?

Some people love all kinds of cheese; some have a more limited palate and then some of us (including me) have definite likes and dislikes but tend towards the former. One cheese, though, that most of us probably enjoy is Parmesan – and I am not talking about powdered stuff that comes in a green can!

Parmesan is a hard, dry cheese made from skimmed or partially skimmed cow’s milk. It is made in multiple countries but the most famous and sought-after is Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy. To be called that, there are very strict controls as to how it is made and from where it is made. Not only that, but in 2008, European courts ruled that this Parmigiano-Reggiano is the only cheese that can be called Parmesan. Most of the world followed this ruling but not the US. Here, you fill find a parmesan-style cheese called Parmesan but to be called Parmigiano-Reggiano, it must come from that specific area of Italy.

There are so many wonderful cheeses out there to eat and with which to cook. Many are European but we also have excellent cheese makers here in the US. More and more of our supermarkets are expanding their specialty cheese selection. Get out there and try some. There are bound to be cheeses that will please everyone!

Cheese lovers will tell you that you should only use the “real” thing – Parmigiano-Reggiano. If you choose a cheese labeled as such, you won’t disappointed but it will cost you more than other cheeses just labeled “Parmesan”. I encourage you to do taste tests and decide for yourself. Also, it may be worth the higher price for a cheese board but it might not if all you are doing is grating it on pasta. The choice is yours – and isn’t it wonderful to have such choices?

Another bit of advice for you is not to throw away the rind when you are finished with your Parmesan cheese. When you are finished, toss the rinds in an airtight plastic bag and put in the freezer. Then, when you are making a pot of minestrone or other soup, toss in a rind. Another ingenious use is to make a stock out of the leftover rinds. Here is a link to a recipe to do just that. Once you have the cheese broth, use it in your risottos, pasta dishes or meat dishes.