I think this is highly controversial theme to write about. For a large group of people there is no difference between Parmigiano-Reggiano and parmesan. The other half of the world is confused about it finding contradictory information on food&kitchen blogs about this issue. Even on the official BBC website you find the following phrase: “Parmesan, or Parmigiano-Reggiano to give it its proper name…”. Well, it’s not about the name of the same thing. For the Italians Parmigiano and parmesan are two very different things.
Technically, Parmigiano-Reggiano as an official trademark is restricted to the cheese produced in a certain manner within the provinces of Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena, and specific regions in the provinces of Bologna and Mantova (it is protected due to the D.O.P. laws- Denominazione di Origine Protetta). ALL cheese produced outside the above mentioned regions are NOT Parmigiano-Reggiano (to give it its proper name:-).
While searching for the explanation of this issue in Internet you may find an information that parmesan is an English name for Parmigiano, you know, a simple translation of a foreign word. I believe, however, that there are many things that are not translated into English and Parmigiano-Reggiano should be one of them. You don’t translate Ferrari, Nutella, Fiat, mozarella or pizza, do you?
In Italy they produce a very similar cheese in terms of a production process and ingredients called Grana Padano but despite its similarity it is called differently just because it does not fulfill the basic condition and is not produced within the above mentioned provinces. Now, if the Italians themselves distinguish between two similar kinds of cheese why the foreigners don’t?
To sum up: there is no such thing as non-Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can call parmesan whatever you like, but for pity’s sake, don’t call parmesan a damn better real Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano!
As for the Italian habits they use Parmigiano-Reggiano as aperitivo, eaten with olives or plain aceto balsamico. They also use its freshly grated version over their first course (primi piatti). You can even see the Italian while eating a piece of grana as a snack.
BBC is right about one thing: the taste of real Parmigiano-Reggiano is magical! Enjoy the real one! The rest is FAKE!
All pictures were downloaded from Flickr on the license of Creative Commons. Photo authors: Dèsirèe Tonus, DiKol, micmol.
After this post was published I got a message from Roberto- the owner of the cheese shop where one of the pictures was taken! This is incredible! He recognized his parmigiano! He and his wife Vanna sell their parmigiano in Modena on Mercato Albinelli. If you’re in Modena you’re more than welcome to visit them and purchase their products.