Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Parmesan cheese, is a hard, granular cheese. The name “Parmesan” is often used generically for various imitations of this cheese, although European law forbids this. It is named after the producing areas, which comprise the Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna (only the area to the west of the river Reno), Modena (all in Emilia-Romagna), and Mantua (in Lombardy, but only the area to the south of river Po), Italy. Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labelled “Parmigiano-Reggiano”, and European law classifies the name, as well as the translation “Parmesan”, as a protected designation of origin. Parmigianois the Italian adjective for Parma and Reggiano that for Reggio Emilia. Outside the EU, the name “Parmesan” can legally be used for cheeses similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano, with only the full Italian name unambiguously referring to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It has been called the “King of Cheeses”.
Name use and generic parmesan
The name is legally protected and, in Italy, exclusive control is exercised over the cheese’s production and sale by the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Consorzio, which was created by a governmental decree. Each wheel must meet strict criteria early in the aging process, when the cheese is still soft and creamy, to merit the official seal and be placed in storage for aging. Because it is widely imitated, Parmigiano-Reggiano has become an increasingly regulated product, and in 1955 it became what is known as a certified name (which is not the same as a brand name). In 2008 an EU court determined that the name “Parmesan” in Europe only refers to Parmigiano-Reggiano and cannot be used for imitation Parmesan. Thus in the European Union, “Parmigiano-Reggiano” is aprotected designation of origin (PDO – DOP in Italian); legally, the name refers exclusively to the Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO cheese manufactured in a limited area in northern Italy. Special seals identify the product as authentic, with the identification number of the dairy, the production month and year, a code identifying the individual wheel and stamps regarding the length of aging.
American generic Parmesan cheese
Generic Parmesan cheese is a family of hard grating cheeses made from cow’s milk and inspired by the original Italian cheese. They are generally pale yellow in color, and usually used grated on dishes like spaghetti, Caesar salad, and pizza.
Within the European Union, the term
Parmesan may only be used, by law, to refer to Parmigiano-Reggiano itself, which must be made in a restricted geographic area, using stringently defined methods. In many areas outside Europe, the name “Parmesan” has become genericized, and may denote any of a number of hard Italian-style grating cheeses, often commercialized under names intended to evoke the original: Parmesan, Parmigiana, Parmesana, Parmabon, Real Parma, Parmezan, Parmezano, Reggianito. After the European ruling that “Parmesan” could not be used as a generic name, Kraft renamed its grated cheese “Pamesello” in Europe.
Generic parmesans may be legally defined in various jurisdictions.
In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations includes a Standard of Identity for “Parmesan and reggiano cheese”. This defines both aspects of the production process and of the final result. In particular, Parmesan must be made of cow’s milk, cured for 10 months or more, contain no more than 32% water, and have no less than 32% milkfat in its solids.
Grated Parmesans have been found to have high levels of non-cheese ingredients such as cellulose and FDA findings show “no parmesan cheese was used to manufacture” certain brands of grated cheese labeled “Parmesan”.
Flavor and uses
Parmesan cheeses are rich in umami flavors. They are generally used as a condiment for prepared foods, rather than being eaten by itself on a cheese plate.
Kraft Foods is a major North American producer of generic Parmesan and has been selling it since 1945. As Parmesan is a common seasoning for pizzas and pastas, many major pizza chains offer it for free.
Soy-based alternatives to Parmesan cheese exist.
Outside Europe, commercially produced cheeses in the style of Parmigiano-Reggiano may be legally sold under the generic name Parmesan cheese. When sold in Europe, such cheeses are obliged to be sold under other names, such as Kraft’s “pamesello italiano”.
Learn more about
Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Parmesan cheese here.
Image credits: (upper right) Parmigiano reggiano piece CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48463
(lower left) By Wittylama – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35363383
(lower right) By Vegan Feast Catering – Soy Parmesan Parsley Risotto, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35602742