(photo: a cheese festival in Modena Italy. thanks to wikivisual for the photo)
Part of the negative aspects of the industrial food system in America are the disassociations between “real food” and “synthetic food.” Take, for example, the cheese associated with pasta, specifically what you would put on a bowl of penne rigate
with tomato sauce
. For many of us in the United States, we associate grated cheese with a green container from Kraft labeled as “Parmesan” – an imitation cheese.
Of course, what Kraft is aiming to imitate or associate with is Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Grana Padano. Both cheeses are produced in northern Italy with Parmigiano-Reggiano specifically being made in:
“…Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna all south of the Po River in Emilia-Romagna as well as in the Mantova area in Lombardia north of the Po River. Parmigiano referring to the city of Parma and Reggiano of course references Reggio Emilia.”
- from a great article on making Parma cheese from the New England Cheese Making Supply Company
(photo: Grana Padano on the left and Parmigiano-Reggiano on the righ
Grana Padano which is very similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano is produced primarily in the Lombardia region of Italy. Grana contains less fat and is aged less than Parmigiano-Reggiano, moreover the cows may have a different diet and the milk processed for a longer period of time. I often use Grana for grating because it’s less expensive than Parmigiano-Reggiano and has a very similar flavor and texture.
Parmigiano-Reggiano, however, is the king of cheeses for several reasons and primarily due to the flavor component which, in my view, is divine (and this is coming from someone who isn’t particularly religious)! Making official Parmigiano-Reggiano requires the use of fresh cow’s milk from particular regions of Italy, per above (namely, milk no older than a single day), cultures from the milk itself, and a minimum two year aging period. The very first Parmigiano-Reggiano may have been produced during the middle ages, specifically in an area called Bibbiano in Emilia-Romagna.
Both Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano are, of course, not just suitable for grating on pasta but also wonderful table cheeses
. In fact, I’d argue it’s more appropriate to enjoy a chunk of the aforementioned cheeses with fruits and nuts after a meal than it is with pasta! You could also serve Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano with some aged balsamic vinegar