Six Interesting Facts About Parmesan Cheese

You can’t talk about delicious Italian food without mentioning cheese and we don’t intend to. In fact, we plan to talk about cheese, wine, bread, and anything else that pairs well with Italian dishes because we love it! Our beginnings are highly influenced by the cultural beauty of Italy and we look forward to bringing you along with us on our culinary journey. We’ll affectionately explore and share some of our favorite Italian inspirations and dishes from the country’s northern regions to the seashores of the south. But first, let’s talk about Parmesan cheese for a minute. 

The Cheesy History of Parmesan 

Claiming to be a certified cheese lover requires cheesy knowledge but don’t panic! We know what you’re thinking and we have you covered. The history of parmesan cheese is as interesting as how it’s made and sold. What many people may not realize is that the name is a direct reference to its cheesy origins of the Italian province of Parma. Parmesan cheese has been made in this province for more than 800 years and is an earlier term for what we now call Parmigiano Reggiano©. 

The practice of naming foods after their places of origin began with the Roman Empire and continued after it’s fall in the 5th century. This convenient way to name food was also a demonstration of pride and quality. During the middle ages, monks in Parma began to make a unique hard cheese and it was soon produced by nobility during the Renaissance. At the time, it was referred to in Latin as caseum paramensis and shortened by locals to Pramsàn later. 

Fast forward to the 14th century and an era of political and natural turmoil, Parmesan cheese traveled extensively beyond its original province to various parts of the Mediterranean. This is evident in the first recorded use of Parmesan cheese by a woman from Genoa who traded her house for 53 pounds of cheese from Parma in the 1200s. Now, that’s some good cheese! 

Fresh parmesan cheese was further celebrated by Giovanni Boccaccio’s novellas during the 1300s,  specifically The Decameron. He told an imaginary story of a gourmet banquet called Bengodi where cooks rolled macaroni down a hill of Parmesan, coating the pasta as it rolled. At the beginning of the 1500s, Italian nobility began to refer to the cheese as Parmesano and was shortened to Parmesan by the French. The shortened version of the original name eventually became the norm and the cheese was a staple among relations between the French and Italians. 

The Cheesy History of Parmesan 

What You Didn’t Know About Fresh Parmesan Cheese

Now that you know the origins of this cheesy goodness, you’re getting closer to becoming a fully credentialed cheese lover. We have some more interesting facts about organic parmesan cheese that you should know. Here’s a quick rundown: 

  • Stinky process – When in Italy, take a Parmigiano Reggiano© tour and revel in the authenticity and beauty of the landscape and cheese. It may not be news to you that making cheese can be a pretty stinky endeavor but the outcomes far outweigh the smell. The province of Parma has an international reputation for high quality and traditional cheese, balsamic vinegar, and ham. With 384 producers of organic parmesan cheese in the area, you’ll just have to get used to the smell. About 70% of the fields around Parma are cultivated for alfalfa to be fed to the cows that produce fresh parmesan cheese. Take a tour of a traditional parmesan cheese factory and you’ll see cheesemakers creating figure eights through a milky white substance while feeling for curds. These cheesemakers spend a lifetime learning and perfecting their craft. 
  • Legally named – Making fresh parmesan cheese is a serious business. The European name of Parmigiano Reggiano© is legally protected by the PDO, also known as Protected Designation of Origin since 1996. Under both Italian and European law, the name Parmesan can be used for similar cheeses outside of the EU but only Parmigiano Reggiano© can be used when referencing organic parmesan cheese. Every producer of Parmesan cheese belongs to the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano, also known as the Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Consortium founded in 1928. The organization sets the rules for the PDO. 
  • Delicious and nutritious – The older the parmesan cheese, the better. Cheese that is aged for 1 year is typically sweeter with a less grainy texture. At 2 years, fresh parmesan cheese becomes increasingly grainy with a more savory flavor. In year 3, the cheese becomes salty, savory, and dry to become wonderfully crumbly! And it’s very nutritious as an excellent source of vitamins A, D, iron, and potassium. Even though it is considered a dairy product, it is consumed by those who are lactose intolerant. It’s also the preferred cheese of astronauts of U.S. and Russian space programs! Next to all these great benefits, parmesan cheese is low in calories.
  • Wheel of Parmesan – During the aging process, organic parmesan cheese wheels develop a protective coating around the edge. Parmigiano Reggiano© is imprinted using dots on this covering and removed if the cheese does not pass inspection. This guarantees that you are receiving organic parmesan cheese.
  • Intense inspection – Remember the Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Consortium? This group inspects every wheel of cheese and gives the seal of approval when high standards are met. They not only inspect the parmesan cheese wheel, but they ensure that the materials and processes are universal and traditionally authentic. 
  • Less is more – Did you know that fresh parmesan cheese is made with only 3 ingredients? The secret recipe only contains salt, rennet or cow enzyme, and unpasteurized milk. This may seem simple until you soon realize that the milk is only produced in the Parmigiano Reggiano area and delivered within two hours of milking by cows who solely feed on alfalfa. That’s the real deal!

The Secret to Choosing the Best Parmesan Cheese

Looking for the good stuff? Buy organic parmesan cheese as a wedge from a wheel of cheese and grate it yourself. You’ll notice it is more flavorful and you’ll use less of it. Always check your local supermarket deli first because the parmesan cheese sold in the aisle is very different. If you are going to buy grated parmesan, check your local specialty shop. They usually buy whole cheese wheels and grate it themselves without any additives like cellulose that you’ll find in most others. 

How long does parmesan cheese last? This really depends on how it’s stored and if it’s organic parmesan cheese or imitation. A nice chunk of parmesan will last 4 to 6 weeks in the refrigerator if wrapped properly. Grated parmesan cheese has a pretty long shelf life and can keep up to 10 months when unopened. The best part is that the carbs in parmesan cheese are perfect for dieters. Due to low calories in parmesan cheese, it’s the dieters’ cheese of choice. 

The Secret to Choosing the Best Parmesan Cheese

Make Your Reservation Today

You are now a certified cheese lover! As you can see, we can talk about fresh parmesan cheese all day! We’d really like to talk about how we can add this wonderful cheese to some of our signature Italian dishes like Not your Nonna’s Bolognese and Mama’s Meatballs. Our Bucatani Carbonara pairs very well with fresh parmesan cheese and a crisp white wine. 

Is your mouth watering yet? We thought so. Make your reservation today!