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Parmigiano Reggiano

Fine Cooking Issue 53
Photo: Scott Phillips
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Have you ever wondered why Italian Parmigiano Reggiano is so pricey compared to domestic versions? Take one taste and you’ll know. True Parmigiano Reggiano has a heady fragrance, an intensely nutty flavor, and a texture that simply can’t be duplicated by the knockoffs. Some pre-grated imitation varieties ( labeled “Parmesan”) contain nondairy fillers and often have a waxy flavor and texture. That’s why we make a point of calling for the real thing in our recipes, such as Frico (Cheese Crisps).

What to buy: Genuine Parmigiano Reggiano has a distinctive tan-colored rind that’s stamped repetitively with its name. If you’re lucky enough to have a cheese shop near you, shop there. Turnover is likely to be higher, increasing your chance of getting a really fresh chunk. Ask for a piece with the rind attached; it helps the cheese stay fresh. If you buy from a grocery store, look for a piece with the latest sell-by date. It shouldn’t have any holes, and it should look neither dry nor oily. Don’t buy it already grated. If you simply can’t find real Parmigiano, Italian Grana Padano is your best substitute. It’s produced in a manner similar to Parmigiano.

How to store: Tightly wrap your wedge of Parmigiano in  foil and store it in a dry section of your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper. It will keep its best flavor for about a month. If the cheese dries out during storage, wrap it in a moist paper towel and then in foil for a day before rewrapping just in foil. Freezing isn’t recommended.

How to use: Parmigiano Reggiano’s flavor is delicate and deteriorates quickly when exposed to oxygen. For this reason, always grate or shave the cheese as close as possible to the time you’ll be using it.

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