Many people have different reasons why they prefer one over the other, but some experts believe that the real difference is in the region and production standards. Keep reading to understand what they mean.
Before we explore their differences, let’s consider how they are defined. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, dry cheese manufactured from skimmed or partially skimmed cow's milk.
It has a hard pale-golden rind and straw-colored insides that boast a rich, sharp flavor. Parmigiano-Reggianos are aged at least two years before they become suitable for consumption. Parmesan cheese labeled stravecchio has been aged three years, while stravecchiones are four or more years old.
The long aging they have to endure is what gives them their complex flavor and extremely granular texture. Parmigiano-Reggiano has been called the "King of Cheeses” which is high praise coming from Italians.
If you find the words, Parmigiano-Reggiano, stenciled on the rind, it means that the cheese was manufactured in Italy in one of the following places: Bologna, Reggio Emilia, Mantua, Modena, or Parma.
Italian has mandated that only cheese produced in the above provinces may be tagged "Parmigiano-Reggiano," and European law classifies the name, as well as the translation "Parmesan," as a protected designation of origin.
In Italy, DOC (Denominazione di Origine controllata) laws are made to preserve the integrity of traditional Italian food products by ensuring their flavor and quality. As such, within the European Union, per DOC regulations, Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano are the same cheese.
Parmesan Cheese vs. Parmigiano-Reggiano
Parmesans are primarily used for grating. In Italy, they are called grana, i.e. "grain," referring to their granular textures. Inside Italy, cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano are also called grana.
The name Parmigiano is used in some parts of Italy for grana cheeses that fail to meet the protected designation of origin requirements for Parmigiano-Reggiano. This could be as specific areas of production, what the cattle feed on, lengthy aging among others.
On the other hand, Parmesan is the English and American translation of the Italian word Parmigiano-Reggiano. Some evidence suggests that in the 17th to 19th centuries, Parmigiano-Reggiano was called Parmesan in Italy and France.
In the U.S., the word "Parmesan" is not regulated. This means that cheese labeled Parmesan in the U.S. may actually be genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano, but there are higher chances that it's an imitation. Most U.S. versions typically age a minimum of 10 months.
How strict you are about the names is purely dependent on where you are when you buy them. In Italy, you can rest assured that you’ll get the authentic thing but if you’re in other places, like the US, it is always a good idea to confirm what you’re buying.
If you’re confused, ask the cheesemonger before you buy. They should have the information you need.