What to Look for When Choosing the Best Parmesan Cheese in a Supermarket

There is no alternative to real Parmigiano Reggiano, but it can be a little expensive, so Cook’s Illustrated ran a series of tests to find out which of the domestic imitators came closest.

They first selected seven nationwide cheese brands (five domestic and two imported) and asked testers to taste them for themselves, then mixed with polenta. Fortunately, you don’t have to travel to Italy or even a fancy cheese shop to find a real piece of Parmigiano Reggiano. Although imported from Italy, Boar’s Head sells great Parmesan Reggiano all over the country under its American label and is a taste test winner.

During the tests, the differences between imported and domestic cheese immediately became apparent. American cheeses tended to be smooth and waxy in appearance, and were criticized by most tasters as “soft” or simply “salty.” The imported miracle wedges were drier, crumbly and had complex, nutty, fruity notes, just like a good Parm should.

You can click the link below to find out why Italian foods are so good, but it all comes down to feeding, fat, and aging. If your local grocery store doesn’t have a boar head, look for Parm with the following characteristics:

  • Dry, crumbly texture: Good Parm will have an uneven dry appearance. Avoid cheese that looks smooth.
  • Choose cheese that is at least 18 months old.
  • Lots of small white crystals. It’s tyrosine ! And this is where the taste is.

Finally, if there is a cheese rack, ask for a taste of the cheese. I found the cheese people to be very nice and helpful, so don’t be shy.

The Great Parma Debate | Illustrated chef


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