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How to buy real 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.

What to buy: Genuine Parmigiano Reggiano has a distinctive tan-colored rind that´s stamped repeatedly 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.

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