Parmigiano Reggiano vs Parmesan: What’s the Story?

What's the deal with Parmigiano Reggiano vs Parmesan? Is one just a fancy name for the other?

There are more types of cheese on the market today than ever, but one thing remains indisputable: Parmesan is the “King of Cheeses.” This Italian cheese not only makes chicken Parmesan sing, but it adds a boost to your Caesar salads, dresses up your popcorn and turns a regular baked potato into a work of art.

You might be confused at the price difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and Parmesan at the store, though. Is there an actual difference between the two?

Parmigiano Reggiano vs Parmesan

If your cheese has the words Parmigiano Reggiano stenciled on the side of the rind, it’s the real deal.

Italy has a law called DOC (Denominazione di Origine controllata) which specifies how and where Parmigiano Reggiano can be produced. It’s similar to the rules governing the production of Champagne or tequila. It has to be produced in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua or Bologna in Italy and follow a very specific recipe to receive the official seal.

That means that anything called by another name (like Parmesan or Reggianito) is an imposter! This “fake” cheese might taste Parmesan-esqe, but it’ll lack the complexity of the certified kind. You can ask your local cheesemonger for a side-by-side tasting; the Parmesan will taste more acidic and saltier when compared to the deeply rich, nutty flavor of the Parmigiano Reggiano.

It’s well worth the price difference!

What About Pre-Grated Parmesan?

If you feel the urge to pick up a bag of pre-grated Parmesan, I recommend that you don’t. There are a couple reasons why you should grate your own cheese. It’ll not only taste better, but it melts more smoothly, too. You should specifically avoid the shelf-stable stuff. That dried cheese has very little flavor and it may contain plant cellulose and chemicals as anti-clumping agents.

We recommend using a rasp grater (like a Microplane) on hard cheeses like Parmesan. The fine teeth create a super-fine shred that’s light and fluffy. You won’t have to use as much cheese, either, stretching that expensive block so it lasts longer. As a bonus, these handheld graters are much easier to clean than the huge box graters, too!

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.