Parmigiano-Reggiano—the real deal from Italy—is undeniably one of the world's great cheeses, with an unrivaled texture and nutty taste. As opposed to cheese labeled simply "Parmesan," Parmigiano-Reggiano must meet certain requirements to earn the name: It can only be made in a specific designated region of Italy (including Parma, where it gets its name).
Genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano is made only in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, following stringent guidelines. The milk used to make the cheese comes from cows that spend most of their days grazing in grassy meadows. It must be made from April 15 to November 11 so that the cows from which the milk comes can graze only on fresh grass. It must be aged for a minimum of 14 months (though most are aged for 2 years) in wheels that weigh at least 66 pounds. The result is a pricey but incomparable cheese with an intensely nutty flavor and a texture that simply can't be duplicated by the knockoffs.
Parmigiano-Reggiano not only provides delicious, nutty chunks for nibbling, but it also begs to be grated so its flavor can be included in risottos, pastas, salads and whatever else needs a cheesy flavor boost.
Getting a volume measure for a certain weight of grated Parmigiano will depend on how you grate it; while a rasp grater will make light, fluffy shreds, cheese ground in a food processor will be much more compact: 2 oz.= 2 cups rasp-grated = 1/2 cup grated in a food processor
If you simply can't find real Parmigiano, Italian Grana Padano is your best substitute. It's produced in a manner similar to Parmigiano.
Because Parmigiano-Reggiano is far superior to generically labeled "parmesan," we make a point of calling for the genuine item in our recipes. We also recommend that you purchase a chunk of the cheese and grate it freshly yourself, rather than buying it already grated. When you buy pre-grated cheese, you have no way of knowing how long ago it was grated, and as the grated cheese sits, it loses moisture and fl avor, eventually tasting more like sawdust than cheese. Grating the cheese yourself is well worth the small effort—the cheese will have more flavor and nuance, and your food will taste better for it.
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.
Like many hard cheeses, Parmigiano changes personality depending on how it's cut, whether its shaved or finely or coarsely grated. There's a big difference between Parmigiano that's freshly grated and Parm that's been grated even hours before. For this reason, grate the cheese as close to using it as possible. For most recipes calling for grated Parmigiano, a rasp grater is our go-to tool, creating light, fluffy shreds.
However, when large amounts are needed, a food processor does the job of grating faster and with less elbow grease. Just trim the rind off the cheese (reserve for flavoring a soup or stew), cut the cheese into 1-inch chunks, and process up to 1/2 lb. at a time in a food processor until very finely ground (about the size of kosher salt crystals). Keep in mind that cheese ground in the food processor will have a different volume than that grated by hand (see Kitchen Math, above).
Parmigiano will keep at least a month in the refrigerator, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Rewrap it in fresh plastic wrap every time you use it.