If you’re like me, you probably just assumed that Parmigiano Reggiano and parmesan were the same things. One just happened to have a fancy name to make fancy cheese lovers feel fancier. Well, arguably one is fancier than the other, but they are not the same.
Parmigiano Reggiano is basically the champagne of cheese and must be produced in a specific region in Italy under specific conditions. Parmesan, however, can be made anywhere and has no set standards.
Here’s what makes Parmigiano Reggiano different than parmesan. The cheese is specifically produced in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and holds DOP or denominazione d’origine protetta status which makes it a legally protected product. To be labeled this type of cheese, it must be in made in that region in Italy—like champagne versus sparkling wine.
Zyliss Restaurant Cheese Grater
Get perfectly grated cheese at home.
The title isn’t just about location, though. Parmigiano Reggiano must be aged for 12 months minimum with 24-36 months being the most common aging time frame. The cheese can also only be made using milk, salt, and rennet (which triggers coagulation). The cheese also has a grainy, crumbly texture and nutty flavor.
Parmesan, on the other hand, is pretty much the opposite when it comes to production. It can be created anywhere in the world, has no standard or required aging time, can be made using any type of milk, and additives are allowed. The result means there’s no standard for texture and flavor, but in general, it lacks the grainy texture of Parmigiano Reggiano. As for flavor, parmesan does have a similar nutty taste, but Parmigiano Reggiano is simply unique among cheeses.
If you’re looking to save cash, maybe opt for parmesan which is typically less expensive, but if you’ve got a cheese board to make or a pasta dish that needs a beautiful garnish, Parmigiano Reggiano is the way to go.