Today our highlighted cheese is Parmesan-Reggiano. Made in the Parma and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy for over 900 years, Parmesan originated in the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries of the region, using water, salt and milk. During the 14th century these monasteries had a monopoly on the cheese and exports were common, yet because of its popularity it became regulated. As early as 1612 the Duke of Parma drew up an edict naming the areas that could use Parma in the name. Today, it has a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) which protects against counterfeiting and establishes regulations for production only in mountain areas. While the original Parmesan-Reggiano was produced from either Reggiana, Rosse (red) or Lombardi breeds of cows, now the majority of the cheese is made from milk of Friesan cows which were introduced in the 1900s, although some producers still use the Rosse cow.
Parmesan-Reggiano is one of the most nutritious cheeses that you can buy, containing 19 of the 21 amino acids that our body needs, is lower in fat than other cheeses, and has numerous vitamins and minerals including high levels of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and, good news for vegetarians, a healthy amount of vitamin B12. In addition, it contains one of the highest concentrations of glutamate, an important component of cellular metabolism.
Literary references to Parmesan, go back as far as Boccaccio in his Decameron (14th century), as well as being mentioned in the memoirs of Casanova. During the London fire of 1666, Samuel Pepys buried his Parmesan, along with his wine, in hopes of saving them.
Great with pasta, in pesto, used in soups, or grated over salads, this cheese is not only nutritious, the taste is delightful, with both a fruity and nutty flavour, yet with a sharp complexity. It’s an essential ingredient in any kitchen.
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Tip: Don’t throw out the rind. Cut it up into cubes and throw it into soup for a deliciously soft cheesy addition, or cut it up and put it into the freezer to use later.