Regal Parmigiano Reggiano’s deliciousness is rivaled only by its versatility.
Everybody loves parm. It’s on just about every neighborhood Italian restaurant table there is. It’s a staple in nearly all lasagna recipes (mine included). No self-respecting Caesar salad would be caught dead without it. Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the most ubiquitous cheeses in our country, and with good reason. It’s a shame we don’t treat it better.
Rich in proteins, lipids, calcium, and phosphorous, Parmigiano Reggiano is so noble it is considered the king of all cheeses. Sadly, the best use people usually come up with is to grate it on pasta or shave it over a salad. With loads of vitamins and minerals and inimitable flavor, we are sorely missing the cheesy boat.
The recipe for Parmigiano Reggiano dates back to the beginning of the thirteenth century. Benedictine monks in the Po Valley of northern Italy were collecting more milk than could be consumed before it spoiled. To protect their valuable yields, the monks created large wheels of hard cheese that only got better with age. Nine hundred years later the same techniques are used to make the same delectable cheese in the same geographic area.
Nearly three and a half million wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano are produced each year. Only those made in the five regions of Bologna, Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia, and Mantua are allowed to be labeled “Parmigiano Reggiano.” In 1934, Parmigiano Reggiano producers created the Consorzio del Parmigiano-Reggiano, an organization dedicated to protecting the traditions of their milk and cheese production, and to providing worldwide education and marketing.
Made from raw cow milk, Parmigiano Reggiano comprises a blend of whole morning milk mixed with the prior evening’s skimmed milk. Formed into 85-pound wheels (each wheel needing more than 150 gallons of milk to make), the rind is imprinted with the Parmigiano Reggiano name, production date, and plant number. Each wheel is submerged in a salt bath for 25 days or so to allow salt to be absorbed, then aged on wood in special caves for an average of two years. At one year of aging, every single wheel is inspected for faults by the Consorzio. Those that pass muster have their rinds branded with the Consorzio’s logo. Wheels which fall short of passing are scored with lines or crosses to alert consumers to the cheese’s inferiority.
Dining with The King
While most people use Parmigiano Reggiano as a topping for pasta dishes and mixed into risotto, don’t underestimate the king’s versatility. Think outside the rind! Parm will make seasonal fruits and veggies tastier in all sorts of ways. In fact, there’s a use for parm in every phase of your next dinner party. Here are a few suggestions. The Consorzio’s website (www.parmigianoreggiano.com) has loads more.
- For an appetizer, liberally sprinkle grated Parmigiano Reggiano over pear slices, then oven-roast them for ten minutes or so until the cheese is bubbling. The salty, umami flavor of the cheese is a great counterpoint to the sweet fruit. Serve up a bottle of chilled Italian white wine and let the party start.
- For an extraordinarily delicious starter, consider making sformato di patate. Similar to a souffle, sformato means “unmolded” in Italian. Topped with a fondue made from Parmigiano Reggiano, it’s hard to put into words how delicious this dish is. A recipe is included with this story. (You’re totally welcome.)
- For the main dish, skip the Chicken Parmesan. Instead, stuff a local turkey with Parmigiano Reggiano, apples, breadcrumbs, and spices. This ooey-gooey stuffing will become one of the stars of your Thanksgiving table. For a side dish, trim and cut a sugar pumpkin into cubes. Toss them with olive oil, fresh rosemary, and a solid grating of cheese. Roast them in a 200 F oven for nearly an hour, until they are soft and fragrant beyond belief. Try to save some for the table.
- Even dessert is fair game. Fresh milk, cheese, and gelatin come together to make a Parmigiano Reggiano mousse not soon forgotten. Top it with grated cinnamon for that extra-festive touch. Perhaps an olive oil torte topped with Parmigiano Reggiano gelato and some citrus wedges is more to your liking? There really isn’t any wrong answer here.
For a cheese that is every bit at home with apricot chutney as it is with aged balsamic vinegar so thick it oozes, Parmigiano Reggiano’s versatility extends way beyond breaded cutlets and spaghetti with meatballs. Whether for sweet or savory dishes, save room at your table for the king.
Sformato di Patate con Fondura di Parmigiano Reggiano
- ¾ pound boiling potatoes (3 medium)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering molds
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 cups whole milk, divided, approximately
- 2 large eggs
- 5 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, divided salt, freshly ground pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
- ½ cup heavy cream
- minced parsley, to garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Quarter potatoes, toss with olive oil, and roast until tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool a bit. Toss into a food processor or blender and purée with 1 cup of the milk, adding a bit more as necessary to make a very smooth, thick mixture.
While the potatoes are roasting, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, for a minute or two. Continuing to whisk, add one cup of milk, and cook until it thickens. Allow it to simmer a few minutes, then remove it from the heat and mix it with the potato puree.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, add the potato mixture and ¼ cup of the grated cheese. Season to taste with salt pepper, and nutmeg.
Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.
Butter six small ramekins or muffin molds and fill almost to the top with the mixture. Transfer to a large baking dish and add enough boiling water so that it reaches two-thirds up the sides of the ramekins. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the centers are firm. Remove the ramekins from the water, set on a wire rack and let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, prepare the cheese sauce by combining the heavy cream and Parmigiano Reggiano in a small saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Cover and keep warm.
To serve, run the blade of a small paring knife around the edge of each ramekin and invert each sformato onto a small plate. Spoon the warm cheese sauce over and garnish with chopped parsley.
Recipe compliments of Eataly Boston.
Adam Centamore is a professional wine & cheese educator and author of an award-nominated book (on wine and cheese, of course). When not scouring the earth for delectable morsels of food and wine to share with his students and readers, he’s usually found fending off hordes of friends and relatives looking for holiday cheese plate ideas with a tall glass of aged eggnog.