WHAT IS PARMESAN?
You think you’re tough? You think you know hard? You know nothing John Snow! Er, I mean whoever you are. Anyway, much like Game of Thrones, knives are your diplomatic tool of choice when attacking a wheel of Parmesan. However most knives will snap in two if you try to use one to break down a whole 80 lb. Parm. Specially designed, leaf shaped knives need to be used that don’t actually cut, but rather “wedge” the cheese. This causes it to break apart along natural faults or cracks. The name Parmesan Reggiano is a mix of the Italian areas of Parma and Reggio. A mix of full and semi-fat raw Reggiana cow’s milk is used.
WHERE IS PARMESAN REGGIANO MADE?
The government certified or D.O.P. cheeses can only be made in the provinces of Reggio Emilia, Parma, and parts of Bologna, Modena and Lombardy. Some creative individuals have taken to aging Italian made cheeses outside of Italy to cut costs. They then bring them back home when the formaggio is ready. These formaggios however do not qualify for D.O.P. despite having been initially produced in the proper region with the proper milk. There are Parmesan inspired cheeses all over the world from Argentina to Wisconsin to that little green cardboard container in your local supermarket. But don’t let the word “Parmesan” fool you. This King of Cheese may have many pretenders in the Game of Cheese Thrones. But they are not all Jon Snow.
DOLPHINS ARE BETTER JUDGES OF PARMESAN QUALITY?
Not exactly. Many cheeses are judged based on sight, taste and touch by taking out a small sample or “plug”. With Parmesan though, you can’t pierce the cheese during ripening without ruining it. The only way to test quality is to have an expert tap away with a tiny hammer. Much like Sonar, the sounds will reveal changes in the interior of the cheese (faults, cracks or other imperfections). If the sounds are uniform, the cheese is a winner! In place of a gold medal, it is branded with a hot iron and attacked by an insane ink-jet printer (to give it all those dots).
WHAT CAN I PAIR WITH PARMESAN REGGIANO?
The Bad Boy of cheese and wine pairing, Max McCalman, suggests Pino Grigio (Dolmoti) or Verdicchio (Marche) for whites. In reds among other wines he mentions Nebiolo (Barolo and Barbaresco), California Merlot or Sangiovese (Chianti Classico) as well as Champagne. These are just a few suggestions from his cool guide “Max McCalman’s Wine + Cheese Pairing Swatchbook.” For cheese plates, stay away from other aged Italian cow’s milk cheeses since they’ll have trouble competing. Go with different cheeses either in type, age or milk.