Italians are serious about their food and where it comes from. So much so that some of its most prized products (balsamic vinegar, wine, mozzarella) are government regulated to ensure that the product is produced in a defined region and that it meets well defined quality standards. They are stamped with the DOC designation and means you can be ensured that an incredible attention to detail and quality has been devoted to these products. I would like to take as much care doing anything as the Italians take in making cheese. Particularly Parmigiano Reggiano, what Mario Batali calls the “king of cheeses”. True Parmigiano Reggiano is made in the region of Emilia Romagna from cow’s milk and is aged for 1- 3 years. Yes, there are US producers of a type of Parmesan and no, it is not as good as the Italian version. Please do yourself a favor and get the real stuff. Somewhere in the store where you buy it there should be a wheel (or part of a wheel) that looks like the picture above. It should come in a big, gorgeous chunk - don’t buy the pre-grated bag or the container of shards.
And the $64,000 question: What do I do with it? Of course you can put it in pasta, sprinkle it on minestrone, add the rind to a soup pot. But Parmigiano Reggiano in its pure form is highly underutilized here in the US. Its flavor on its own is exceptional. Sharp and nutty, it is a perfect partner with pre dinner drinks and is even more enhanced when drizzled with good balsamic vinegar. Or, if you want a more elegant appetizer, try frico or parmesan crisps to serve with prosecco.
Frico (Parmesan Crisps)
makes 30 crisps
8 oz chunk of parmesan
2 Tbs. flour
Preheat oven to 350. Grate the parmesan and mix it with the flour. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the mixture onto the baking sheet and spread into 3 inch disk, leaving about 1 inch in between each disk. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes until golden brown but be careful not to burn. Cool on the pans until firm enough to transfer to a baking rack.
Have a great weekend and if you try the frico or some other delicious Parmigiano Reggiano treat, let me know about it in the comments!