If you’re like me, you probably assumed that Parmigiano Reggiano and Parmesan were the same thing. One just had a fancy name to make fancy cheese lovers feel extra fancy. Well, one could be said to be more elegant than the other, but they are not the same.
Parmigiano Reggiano is basically the champagne of cheese and must be produced in a specific region of Italy under specific conditions. Parmesan cheese, however, can be made anywhere and has no set standards.
This is what makes Parmigiano Reggiano different from Parmesan. The cheese is specifically produced in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and has PDO, or Protected Designation of Origin, making it a legally protected product. To be labeled as this type of cheese, it must be made in that region of Italy, like champagne versus sparkling wine.
However, the title is not just about the location. Parmigiano Reggiano must be aged for a minimum of 12 months, with 24 to 36 months being the most common aging period. Cheese can only be made with milk, salt, and rennet (which triggers coagulation). The cheese also has a grainy, crumbly texture and a nutty flavor.
Parmesan, on the other hand, is pretty much the opposite when it comes to production. It can be created anywhere in the world, has no standard or required aging time, can be made with any type of milk, and additives are allowed. The result means there is no standard for texture and flavor, but overall it lacks the grainy texture of Parmigiano Reggiano. Taste-wise, Parmesan has a similar nutty flavor, but Parmigiano Reggiano is simply unique among cheeses.
If you’re looking to save money, perhaps go for Parmesan, which is generally less expensive, but if you’ve got a cheese board to make or a pasta dish that needs a beautiful garnish, Parmigiano Reggiano is the way to go.