Depending on who you ask there are two wildly different parmesans.

One is a delicacy that hales from Italy while the other can be found in a bottle on any supermarket in America.

This results in the main difference in the name. Not all parmesan is parmigiano reggiano.

The main differences, their aging processes and how their ingredients are regulated.

For a cheese to be classified as parmigiano reggiano, it must come from particular regions of Italy and contain only certain approved ingredients. Parmigiano reggiano is aged for at least one year and all the way up to three years.

Parmesan, on the other hand, is not regulated at all, and may be aged as little as 10 months.

When you’re trying to find the best cheese for pizza or your signature pasta dish, it’s important to know what makes each cheese unique. Find out why you should be sticking to the real stuff and leave the American version behind.

Parmesan Cheese in Italy

The laws that regulate parmigiano reggiano in Italy are called DOC laws, or Denominazione di Origine controllata laws. These DOC laws determine exactly where parmigiano reggiano has to be made and where its ingredients originate.

The areas includes the Parma, Modena, and Reggio Emilia regions, with some areas of Bologna and Mantua also included. In the European Union, “parmesan” is accepted as a translation of parmigiano reggiano and is not referring to the American version.

What is Parmigiano Reggiano Made of?

DOC laws restrict parmigiano reggiano’s ingredients to be skimmed cow’s milk, salt, and an enzyme called rennet for curdling.

DOC laws exist in order to preserve traditional methods and ensure consistent quality from product to product. They are similar to the laws that regulate what is classified as Neapolitan pizza in Naples, Italy.

Parmesan Cheese in the United States

Outside of the European Union, parmesan does not refer to the same cheese as parmigiano reggiano. In America, parmesan cheese is an entirely different product because it is not subject to any regulations. This being said, parmesan is often considered an alternative to or imitation of parmigiano reggiano but no where near the quality or taste than the original.

Because of parmigiano reggiano’s precise requirements, not many cheesemakers produce it. Therefore actual parmigiano reggiano is relatively expensive in comparison. Parmesan, on the other hand, offers a similar flavor profile and texture at a lower price point because of its unrestricted production processes.

How is Parmesan Cheese Made?

The methods for making parmesan and parmigiano reggiano are similar. Here is a basic process cheesemakers follow:

  1. Fresh cow’s milk sits until the cream rises to the top.
  2. The cream is then skimmed off the top, and the remaining milk is combined with whole milk.
  3. Rennet (an enzyme that naturally occurs in calves) is added to produce the soft curds.
  4. The curd cooks for some time until they settle together at the bottom of the cooking vessel.
  5. The mass made from the curds is raised out of the liquid, cut, and put into wheel molds.
  6. The wheels then soak in a brining solution for anywhere from 20-25 days.
  7. After brining, the wheels sit in a maturing room to age for 1-3 years for parmigiano reggiano and a minimum of 10 months for parmesan.
  8. Once fully aged, the cheese will be prepared for selling.

To know if you are getting the real deal parmigiano reggiano, then wheel will be marked with the cheese’s signature branding. Lookout for it next time you pick out some.

Which cheese is best for you depends upon your budget and how robust of a flavor you would like to incorporate into your dish, but both parmesan and parmigiano reggiano can help you achieve a similar final product.