A plate of spaghetti can never be great spaghetti without a sprinkling of parmesan! Added to pasta, risottos, soups and so much more, its versatility makes parmesan a favorite for many of us.However, parmesan made in the US and Italian parmesan are two different types of cheese. In this article we look at the differences between the two, as well as reviewing some of the best parmesan cheese available from both. We also consider the nutritional content of parmesan and offer some great ways to use up the rind leftover from a block of parmesan.
The six month aged Kraft grated parmesan cheese is our best pick with its flavor lock cap to maintain its freshness.
With its shaker top, the gluten free Milano’s grated imported parmesan cheese is our budget pick of US manufactured parmesan.
Table of Contents
- Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Parmesan Cheese
- 1. Kraft Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 2. Milano's Parmesan Cheese Jars
- 3. Italian Grana Padano
- 4. Caseificio 3090 28-month-aged Parmigiano Reggiano
- 5. igourmet Parmigiano Reggiano 24 Month Top Grade
- 6. Andrew & Everett Hormone Free Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 7. igourmet Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio
- 8. Mama Francesca Premium Parmesan
- 9. Vacche Rosse (Red Cow) Parmigiano Reggiano
- 10. Alma Gourmet Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
- Things to Consider Before Buying Parmesan Cheese
Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Parmesan Cheese
1. Kraft Grated Parmesan Cheese
The 20 oz jar of Kraft grated parmesan cheese comes with a flavor lock cap to help keep the cheese fresh. This is a US parmesan which has been aged for six months and it is made with pasteurized part-skim milk. Although this cheese is labelled as 100% grated parmesan, it does contain cellulose powder and potassium sorbate to assist with shelf life. It can still be prone to clumping though.
2. Milano's Parmesan Cheese Jars
Aged for over 10 months, Milano’s grated imported parmesan cheese comes as 16 oz shaker top jar. Based in New Jersey, the family manufacturer makes their parmesan from pure cow’s milk. This cheese is gluten free and does not contain any fillers, although it does contain corn starch and cellulose to prevent clumping and potassium sorbate for flavor preservation.Some long-time buyers consider that the quality of this cheese has declined in recent times and that compared with other grated cheeses it can lack some flavor. Like most grated hard cheese, it can be prone to clumping so you will need to loosen before shaking some out.
3. Italian Grana Padano
The 1 lb. piece of Grana Padano has been aged for over 18 months before being imported from Italy. As an Italian hard cheese, this has a grainy texture with a delicate and fragrant taste. This cheese is vacuum sealed and comes on ice to keep it fresh which depending on where you live and the time of year.
Unfortunately, this may not be enough to keep the cheese cold before it arrives. Some buyers have also found that there can be thick rind on the pieces they have received, which leaves less cheese to eat.
4. Caseificio 3090 28-month-aged Parmigiano Reggiano
This 28 month aged Parmigiano Reggiano comes as a 2 lb. block which has been air-freighted from Caseificio Sociale di Borgotaro or dairy #3090. This is a creamy cheese with a milky finish.
Some buyers consider that this has not been aged enough and there can be a risk of the cheese developing mold during shipping although it is shipped on ice.
5. igourmet Parmigiano Reggiano 24 Month Top Grade
This 2 lb. block of 24 month aged Parmigiano Reggiano has a nutty and sweet flavor. This is a vacuum packed cheese which, depending on the time of year and State will arrive cold packed, although a small number of buyers have received this not packaged properly for warmer temperatures. This parmesan may also lack some of the nuttiness and crystals that would be expected with an aged Parmigiano Reggiano.
6. Andrew & Everett Hormone Free Grated Parmesan Cheese
Made from the milk of free range and grass fed cattle which are BST and rBGH hormone free, the US-made Andrew Everett grated parmesan cheese does not contain any preservatives, fillers or binders. It does contain cellulose though to prevent clumping. Aged for over 10 months, this gluten free cheese has been made with vegetable rennet, making it suitable for vegetarian/meat-free diets.
There can be a risk of this 7 oz jar of cheese arriving near to its ‘use by’ date and some consider that its flavor is bland.
7. igourmet Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio
This 36 month aged Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio comes as a 1 lb. block. This cheese has a deep and golden color and is rich in crystals. Its flavor is fruity and full with a slight salt tang and this cheese should be served in chunks or as an appetizer. This parmesan is delivered cold. Some consider this does not contain as many crystals as it should and may be more like a one year than a three year aged parmesan.
8. Mama Francesca Premium Parmesan
Made with a blend of Parmesan, Romano and Asiago cheeses in the US from European cultures, the Mama Francesca grated parmesan is aged for at least 10 months. This is non-GMO cheese which has been sourced from rBST-free cattle and is also gluten free. Made without any artificial flavors or colors, this cheese has flavors of the sharper Romano blended with the smooth Asiago.
This 8 oz jar contains cellulose to prevent clumping and potassium sorbate to protect its flavors. Like any grated hard cheese this is prone to clumping and may be a little bland compared to some other US-made parmesan.
9. Vacche Rosse (Red Cow) Parmigiano Reggiano
The Vacche Rosse (Red Cow) Parmigiano Reggiano is produced from the milk of Reggiana cattle which are native to northern Italy and prized for their milk for parmesans. This 2.2 lb. block of cheese is a very fine and granular cheese that is sweet and rich in flavor without being too spicy.
This Italian parmesan has been seasoned for at least 40 months or as much as 48 and its price reflects the extra maturity. It is also shipped directly from Italy with delivery taking between two and five days.
10. Alma Gourmet Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
This 5 lb. block of 18 month aged Parmigiano Reggiano has been imported from Italy. This cheese is shipped on ice from New York. The sizing of this cheese can be inconsistent - you may receive a 5 lb. block, or it may be cut into smaller pieces. As this is a less aged parmesan which has been made with pasteurized milk, this can be slightly moister and creamier than parmesans which have been aged for longer.
Things to Consider Before Buying Parmesan Cheese
Italian parmesan production actually dates back around 900 years, when Cistercian and Benedictine monks produced the cheese in Parma and Reggio Emilia.
Parmesan is one of the few foods rich in umami or the ‘first taste’ that our taste buds can distinguish alongside salt, sweet, bitter and sour.
The Difference Between US Parmesan Cheese and Italian Parmesan Cheese
Parmesan is often the name we give to any hard grated cheese. The FDA says that a hard cheese does not have to come from Italy to be a parmesan. A parmesan in the US needs to be from fresh whole milk, cream, skim milk or even reconstituted dry milk. The cheese also needs to have a granular texture, a brittle and hard rind and be able to grate easily. It does not need to be made in Italy; it can be made in the US.
However, within the European Union, parmesan is a little more complicated than that.
A number of cheeses (as well as other foods) have what is known as ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ or PDO status under European law. This means that the producers of these cheese have strict guidelines to follow around manufacture, aging of the product and its geographical boundaries.
When most of us think of Italian hard cheese or parmesan, we are actually thinking of the cheese called Parmigiano Reggiano, or its translation - ‘parmesan’. European law also classifies this parmesan translation as a PDO; parmesan actually received its Italian PDO back in 1955.
Buying Italian parmesan also means that there is a premium to pay as the cheese has to be imported from Italy. Unfortunately, this does mean Italian parmesan is more of a luxury item which will not fit into everyone’s budget.
Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano Cheeses
Parmigiano Reggiano is the high quality Italian hard cheese often known as ‘The King of Cheeses’. Parmigiano Reggiano can only be made in one of the two northern Italy regions of Emilia-Romagna or Lombardy.
This cheese is made from pure and unpasteurized cow's milk from a herd fed on grass and hay as this diet gives a more complexly flavored milk and the lack of pasteurization allows the microorganisms that add flavor to remain in the milk.
The cheese must age for at least one year, as much as three or even more. If an Italian parmesan has the name Vecchio with it, it has been aged for between 18 and 24 months and if it is named Stravecchio; it is aged for two to three years.
There are currently around 490 dairies in Italy which produce Parmigiano Reggiano. It takes around 600 liters of milk to produce a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano which weighs at least 66 lb. The milk is partly skimmed and combined with starter culture to commence the curdling. Animal-origin rennet is added to help further curd formation and the mixture is stirred to allow some of the moisture to evaporate. The curds are then formed into wheels and are moved into salt baths for flavor and preservation. No other ingredients can be added to a PDO Parmigiano Reggiano.
After the salt bath, the cheese is set onto a rack in a climate-controlled room to age. As the cheese begins to age, it forms lactic acid, which forces the cheese’s proteins to come together and push out the moisture. As these proteins are then broken down into amino acids, these give the cheese its nutty flavor.
The fats are broken down into free fatty acids which give flavor to the cheese and also convert to esters (when combined with the cheese’s natural alcohol) to give some fruitiness to the cheese.
These chemical reactions also give the crunchy crystals found in Italian hard cheeses. These crystals are actually the amino acid tyrosine, which you see as crystals and the amino acid leucine which appears as larger white crystals or pearls.
Once a Parmigiano Reggiano has aged it is then inspected and if it passes its inspection, the name of the cheese, when it was made and the PDO seal are stamped onto its rind. Usually only Parmigiano Reggiano which has been aged for at least 24 months is exported. An unpasteurized cheese can be imported into the US as long as it is over the age of 60 days.
Like the Parmigiano Reggiano, the Grana Padano parmesan is made from cows' milk and only needs to age for a minimum of nine months. Grana Padano is also made in a much larger production region, has a less concentrated flavor and more sweetness than a Parmigiano Reggiano. It also costs less.
A Pecorino Romano is made from sheep’s milk and is aged for between five and eight months in Sardinia, Lazio or Grosseto in Tuscany. Pecorino Romano has more tang and saltiness and a stronger flavor than Parmigiano Reggiano. Its color is also lighter with a black rind.
Although parmesans made with non-animal rennet are available; in the European Union, these cannot be legally called parmesan as they have not been made from calf rennet.
Using up Parmesan Rinds
There’s no need for you to throw parmesan rinds away. The rind develops as the cheese is matured. Although completely edible, its hardness makes it difficult to eat, but, you can cook with it as it has the full flavor of the cheese.
The rind will not melt when you cook it, rather it just softens. Add it to sauces, risottos or soups for extra umami or you can even simmer it up with herbs to make a parmesan broth. The rinds will also keep well in the fridge for months or you can even freeze them.
US parmesan tend to have more salt than Italian hard cheeses. As they are made as smaller wheels their larger surface area means they draw the salt in faster than Italian wheels which can be as much as three times the size.
A one ounce serving of Italian parmesan will contain around 18% of our sodium %DV (% Daily Value) and contains:
Italian parmesan also contains 31% of our calcium %DV, 20% of phosphorous %DV and 11% of vitamin B12 %DV.
Although there are several ways to store parmesan, the easiest way is to add it to a zipper bag, push all the air out and zip it up; or you can just use plastic wrap. Parmesan exposed to the air will begin to turn white and its rind thicken. You can resolve this by placing the parmesan in a damp cheesecloth and plastic wrap overnight in the refrigerator. The refreshed cheese can then be used and re-wrapped in plastic wrap or a zipper bag the next day.
Whether you want grated parmesan to finish off your pasta, or a block to serve with appetizers, there is a parmesan for it. Parmesans made in the US are budget-friendly, readily available and do not always need refrigerating until they are opened. Italian parmesans are harder to source and cost more as they must be imported and usually shipped cold.Whether you are a cheese aficionado or a regular cook, we hope you have enjoyed our article on parmesan cheese and found it informative. We also hope that this article will help you to choose the best parmesan cheese for spaghetti and so much more.