Parmesan is a fairly expensive hard cheese, and most people use it grated over pasta or risottos. Parmigiano Reggiano is the official name of Parmesan which is made only in certain Italian provinces – Parma, Emilia, Modena, Mantua and Bologna – and is matured for at least one year so it can develop its signature strong flavor and texture.

Parmesan in a key ingredient for many chefs and home cooks alike, but there are a lot of creative ways to use it in the kitchen. Here are some top tips for getting the best out of your Parmesan.

1. The older Parmesan is, the better it tastes

Whilst Parmesan must be matured for a minimum of 12 months to be called Parmigiano Reggiano, there are instances when wheels of the cheese can sit for as long as 10 years.

The older the cheese is, the better the distinctive taste and aromas are. Italians from the city of Parma say the best time to buy the cheese is when it is between 24 and 32 months old, as this is when they think it is at its best.

2. Try pairing Parmesan with sparkling white wine

If Parmesan is one of the main ingredients in your meal, try serving sparkling white wine or Champagne with it, as the pairing is excellent. Parmesan also works well with some red wines, such as Lambrusco, a sparkling red from the Emilia-Romagna region.

3. Combine Parmesan with balsamic vinegar

Traditional balsamic vinegar from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy is much sweeter and a little thicker than the balsamic we usually buy in the supermarket, but it is well worth hunting some down. The sweetness of the vinegar matches the flavors of the Parmesan brilliantly, making them a match you really must try. Cut some chunks of good-quality Parmesan, and drizzle a few drops of the vinegar over for a brilliant, no-fuss appetizer.

4. Parmesan for dessert

Parmesan isn’t the first thing you’d think of as a dessert ingredient, but there are many ways you can use Parmesan to make great-tasting desserts. A Parmigiano Reggiano souffle makes a great dessert to have with after-dinner coffee, and you can also make Parmesan bonbons and Parmesan mousse too.

5. Parmesan for breakfast

Proving that this cheese really is versatile, it can be a key ingredient in breakfast dishes as well! If you fancy eggs Benedict for breakfast, try making a creamy Parmesan sauce instead of the traditional hollandaise for a richer taste.