Got REAL Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese?

February 19, 2016

You may be aware of the recent internet articles regarding the fraudulent sales of grated “parmesan cheese.” The FDA is investigating a criminal case against Castle Cheese, an industry supplier to many large supermarket chains, for selling grated “parmesan” and other so called cheeses that contain of all things wood pulp; just call it cellulose!

For years I have been cautioning not to buy any kind of grated cheese and to really read the labels so you know what you are or are not getting. On and in my cookbooks, is the story of REAL Parmigiano-Reggiano and other authentic Italian cheeses. Just type in Parmigiano-Reggiano or names of other imported Italian cheeses to learn more on the site and in our videos. Cheese-makers in Italy would turn green to know about the “cheese” fraud in American grocery stores. The article below is excerpted from Ciao Italia Family Classics.

Pass the Parmigiano-Reggiano

It is a daily ritual played out at the dinner table . . steaming plates of pasta blanketed in thick tomato sauce and sprinkled with “Parmesan cheese” from a box or in a plastic bag.

A scene Like this would be unthinkable in Italy because Italians take the quality and authenticity of their cheeses as seriously as they do their pasta. And just as there are hundreds of regional pastas, there are an equal number of regional cheeses, both aged and fresh.

Outside of Italy, the two most widely known aged cheeses used here for grating are Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano) and Pecorino and the most popular fresh cheese is mozzarella. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a cow’s milk cheese, while Pecorino is a sheep’s milk cheese, and mozzarella is a fresh (pasta filata) cheese made from cow’s milk or buffalo milk.

While these cheeses are found in all the regions of Italy, Parmigiano-Reggiano has traditionally been recognized as the cheese that northern Italians use and Pecorino the preferred cheese of southern Italians.

We tend to think of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino as cheese only used for grating, sprinkled on top of pasta dishes, but in Italy chips of these cheeses are whittled out of a wedge with a tiny cheese knife and eaten on their own, sometimes with a dribble of aged balsamic vinegar, as is the case with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Pecorino cheese has been the familiar lunch of shepherds in Italy for centuries; a popular snack still today is Pecorino eaten with fresh fava beans, some coarse bread, and a glass of crisp white wine.

Unfortunately, many people resort to purchasing what they think are these cheeses, conveniently grated and sold in shaker-type containers. But they are nothing more than artificial imitations, bearing no resemblance to the real thing. Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino cheese are available in most supermarkets and in Italian specialty stores and, if not, can be ordered on line.

True, it is difficult to find some types of cheeses but availability is improving as supermarkets and specialty cheese stores expand their inventory. It is also true that the best place to enjoy many of these cheeses, especially the delicate soft and fresh types, is in Italy, in the locales where they are made. But reality must rule in the kitchen and we need to choose wisely and use Italian products that are available here.

Get to know these cheeses by looking for their names embedded on their rinds. The production of Parmigiano-Reggiano is controlled by law and no cheese is released for sale until it meets all requirements. When it does, the stamp of approval of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano is branded on the cheese rind, indicating that this is the real thing.
Never buy Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino cheese already grated; there is no way of telling if these are, in fact, the real products of Italy and could be imitations from elsewhere. A good indicator is the price, if it is inexpensive, it probably is not the real thing. Parmigiano-Reggiano is expensive, even in Italy, but a little goes a long way. Purchase a wedge from a reliable source that will be used within a short period of time. It is better to buy it frequently than to let the cheese languish, insufficiently wrapped in the refrigerator, where it will dry out and be impossible to grate.

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