Parmesan vs. Parmigiano-Reggiano: What’s the Difference?

If you’re like most people, you probably think that Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano are the same things. But what is the difference between them?

Heavy Cream VS Whipping Cream
Heavy Cream VS Whipping Cream

Is Parmesan just a cheap substitute for Parmigiano-Reggiano?

In this blog post, we will explore the differences between these two cheeses and help you decide which one is best for your needs.

Is Parmesan the same as Parmigiano-Reggiano?

The short answer is no. While both cheeses are often referred to as the same cheese and interchangeably, parmesan is actually a generic term for cheese that is similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Parmesan is said to be the imitation of Parmigiano-Reggiano. As there is no “Parmesan” in Italy, the word is derived from the French translation of “Parmesano”.

Parmesan can be made anywhere in the world, while Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be made in certain parts of Italy. Parmigiano-Reggiano is protected under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) – where they have to follow strict rules and produce only in a certain area.

The production is strictly regulated, see how it’s made.

“Parmigiano-Reggiano” is trademarked by Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium – The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano (the Consorzio). It means that every wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano will have to be inspected by trained inspectors by the consortium before sold and stamped with “Parmigiano-Reggiano”.

While the word “parmesan” is not regulated. So technically, any cheese producer can make and call their cheese “parmesan” without any consequence.

That’s why you will have different qualities of Parmesan while Parmigiano-Reggiano is more consistent in quality.

Is Parmigiano-Reggiano better than Parmesan?

The answer is subjective. However, Parmigiano-Reggiano is almost always perceived as the premium of parmesan. It is way more expensive, has a stricter production process, and often tastes better.

I have an in-depth discussion previously about why it is so expensive.

That’s to say, Parmesan is usually more budget-friendly. It can be 2-3x cheaper than the Parmigiano-Reggiano. However, cheaper doesn’t always mean bad products.

Just that you have to pay extra attention to the ingredients. Some commercial parmesan brands labeled with “100% parmesan” may still have a high percentage of non-dairy ingredients, including cellulose (also known as wood pulp or sawdust). Read more.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is only made with 4 basic ingredients – milk, salt, culture, and rennet.

Healthwise, Parmigiano-Reggiano is more natural and better option. There is also an organic version of it. Read the parmesan benefits.

One thing is that Parmigiano-Reggiano is always made with unpasteurized cow’s milk while Parmesan is usually made with pasteurized cow’s milk.

It makes them less ideal for pregnant women, the elderly, and children.

Can I substitute Parmesan for Parmigiano-Reggiano?

Yes, you can. However, the substitution will not be as good as using the original cheese. It will still have subtle differences but largely depend on the brands you are using.

The difference in milk affects the taste of the cheese as well as the texture.

If you’re cooking a dish that calls for Parmesan cheese, then Parmesan can be substituted. If you’re looking to grate the cheese over pasta or salads, then I would recommend using Parmigiano-Reggiano instead.

Parmesan is a great alternative if you’re looking for a cheaper option or cannot find Parmigiano-Reggiano. Just make sure that it’s 100% parmesan to avoid any filler ingredient.

Taste and Uses

Parmesan is made from pasteurized cow’s milk. It has a strong, nutty flavor and a granular texture. Parmesan is typically used as a grating cheese, meaning it is shredded or grated over food. Or make it into parmesan crisps!

Parmigiano-Reggiano, on the other hand, is usually aged longer and is made from raw cow’s milk. It has a more complex flavor (and bacteria composition) with a slightly crunchy texture. Parmigiano-Reggiano is typically used as a table cheese, meaning it is eaten in chunks or slices.

The Parmesan rind is never wasted. Simmer them in soup, the result will amaze you!

So which one should you buy then?

It really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want authentic Italian cheese that has a distinct taste and is made with high-quality ingredients, go for Parmigiano-Reggiano. But if you’re looking for something more affordable and versatile, Parmesan will do the trick.

But, if you have the chance to get your hands on some real Parmigiano-Reggiano, do it! You won’t regret it. 🙂


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