Last Updated on January 6, 2023 by Aaron
When it comes to making the perfect dish, there is no substitute for the flavor of high-quality parmesan cheese. This iconic Italian cheese has been a staple in the Italian cuisine for centuries, and its nutty, umami taste is instantly recognizable. But not all parmesan cheeses are created equal — there are grades that denote quality and freshness, with the best being the DOP version.
DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of the most exclusive cheeses in the world. The cheese must follow strict regulations to earn its classification and must be made exclusively in a certain area of Northern Italy using a specific set of ingredients. The cheese is aged for a minimum of 12 months and typically up to 36 months, which gives it a unique flavor and texture. It has an intense yet balanced flavor that can only be achieved when the cheese is made to these exact specifications.
The passed-grade quality of the Parmigiano Reggiano should always look like the ones in the right image.
The Best Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) Brands — Award Winners!
According to the World Cheese Awards website, there are a few brands that consistently produce top-notch Parmigiano Reggiano. These brands or producers have their exceptional Parmigiano Reggiano rated with “Super Gold” (the highest possible rating) at least once at the World Cheese Awards.
But it’s not going to be easy to find them outside Italy, below I’ve compiled their logos so that you can keep an eye out next time when buying parmesan at your local speciality shop. See below:
There are plenty of other Parmigiano Reggiano options available in the market that are still very good, but if you’re looking for the absolute best, then be sure to search for one of these award-winning producers.
Other than those, there are quite a several other Parmigiano Reggiano producers that are worth mentioning, where each having its own unique flavor and characteristics — for example, the Bonat, Latteria Soresina, and Ambrosi Parmigiano Reggiano.
Remarkably, Vacche Rosse is a type of Parmigiano Reggiano which is considered to be the best. It’s made using the native breed of the red cow in Reggio Emilia — a historic breed of Italian cattle that risked extinction in the 70s. The cow produces much lesser milk than other breeds but with a higher fat and protein content, making it ideal for long aging. The flavor is also more concentrated than regular Parmigiano Reggiano.
The older the Parmigiano Reggiano, the often more intense the flavor and texture — however, it is also much pricier. Most Parmigiano Reggiano goes for anywhere between $20 and $50 per pound — read our post on why parmesan is so expensive. You might also be interested to read this news of a 21-year-old wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano that took place in a charity auction.
How to Choose the Best Parmesan Cheese
Whether it’s the regular domestic parmesan or the expensive DOP Parmigiano Reggiano, there are a few things you need to look out for. The texture should be firm for younger parmesan, while slightly grainy, dry and crumbly for aged parmesan. The cheese should have a golden-yellow color, which reflects its age. The aroma of good parmesan is sweet and nutty. You may also find some salt crystals on it, read more.
For the Parmigiano Reggiano, you should also look for:
- On the cheese rind, it will have pinhole “Parmigiano Reggiano” letters stencilled with the production data and dairy code. You’ll also find a unique casein plate ID number and the official consortium fire-branded logo.
- On the plastic packaging, the label will use “Parmigiano Reggiano” not “Parmesan Cheese”, and also imported from Italy. Check the ingredients, they should only be raw milk, salt, culture, and animal rennet.
Avoid any parmesan that is overly glossy, moist, or swell. The exterior of the good quality wheel shouldn’t have surface splits, erosions, and worn edges.
It’s best to choose the parmesan in blocks over the pre-grated parmesan cheese. Most pre-grated parmesan has been processed with preservatives and other non-dairy ingredients such as cellulose, modified corn starch, potassium sorbate and natamycin. You should look into their ingredients, like below: