How Parmigiano-Reggiano D.O.P. Is Made

We visited Parma, Italy, to see what makes authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano D.O.P. so delicious.



After one year Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese wheels are inspected with light taps of a hammer to listen for defects in consistency.

Photos by parmigianoreggiano.com

You may have heard that Parmigiano-Reggiano is the good stuff. But what defines it? Over 300 factories in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and part of Mantova and Bologna make it. And with so many hands in the cheese, how does the quality stay consistent? It's more than just the region that it's from that defines a cheese as Parmigiano-Reggiano. The factories that make it must follow a set of standards laid out by a cheese consortium (an association of businesses), which looks after maintaining the quality the product. Furthermore, the final product is inspected before it can bear the name Parmigiano-Reggiano and the letters D.O.P. (Domination of Protected Origin).

The 800-year-old method

Each wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano must contain only three ingredients: raw cow’s milk, sea salt and calf rennet (an enzyme from the stomach of calves to curd the milk).There is no wax on the outside and no additives anywhere, except for the world’s oldest preservative - salt. The milk may only come from cows which have been fed grass from the region.

The raw milk is cooked in large vats between 129 and 131 degrees Fahrenheit, at the discretion of the master cheese maker who adapts the cooking method to the variation in each day’s milk. It’s cooled into the shape of the mold and then set in a brine bath. After a month, the cheese is moved to the shelves to allow the salt to penetrate to the center of the wheel. Each day, every wheel must be dusted and flipped over to keep mold from forming. After one year, the Parmigiano-Reggiano consortium performs a density test by tapping with a small metal hammer and listening for inconsistencies. Once approved, the cheese can carry the official stamp of D.O.P. See the whole process in an official video produced by the Parmigiano-Reggiano consortium here.

What’s real Parmesan cheese like? 

Real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is embedded with small crystals where the naturally occurring amino acid tyrosine has linked together during the aging process. It has an unmistakable flaky texture and a milky aroma. It can be aged between one to three years, in which each consecutive year it develops more protein deposits and a stronger flavor. In the picture to the right, PMQ Pizza Magazine and the U.S. Pizza Team learn about the three different levels of maturation. After one year, Parmigiano-Reggiano is softer and used just for straight eating in pieces. After two years, it is most versatile, ideal for either eating directly or grating. After three years, it is mostly used for grating, since it is a bit harder and robustly flavored.

What about Grana Padano? 

Grana Padano has many similarities to Parmigiano-Reggiano. They are both produced using fresh, raw cow's milk from the North of Italy (Parmigiano-Reggiano has a more limited area), they are cooked and set into molds in a similar way and both undergo the tapping test to check for defects. Some differences include that the cows whose milk is used to produce Grana Padano are able to eat more than just grass from the region. The D.O.P. specifications also permit them to eat peas, corn and millet. The cheese can also be sold as fully ready-to-eat Grana after just nine months, whereas Parmigiano-Reggiano is aged for a minimum of 12 months.  

Parmigiano-Reggiano in your store

Parmigiano-Reggiano is costly to get in the United States, and with so many imitations at a fraction of the price, it may not be worth it, depending on your style of pizzeria. This is not a cheese to leave haphazardly on the table. If you have servers at your pizzeria, they can come by and grate the cheese on for the customer as they might with freshly grated pepper. Otherwise, Parmigiano-Reggiano may be used for a cheese plate appetizer. If you market your pizza as a gourmet product with authentic Italian ingredients, then the D.O.P. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a must. If you’re not sure if you’ve tried real Parmigiano-Reggiano before, go get a small hunk from your local supermarket. Chunk it by stabbing it with a cheese knife, or grate it onto soups, veggies or pastas just before serving. Buon appetito! 

 

Edit Module

Tell us what you think at or email.

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

This Company is Pioneering New York-Style Pizza in Pakistan

An elaborate supply chain with links to American pizza makers is making authentic NY-style pizza a possibility in Pakistan.

Pizza Inn Rolls Along with New Meatball Supreme

The new specialty pizza will be added to the buffet line.

Money Magazine, Yelp Name Best Pizza Joints in Each State

Rankings are based on number of online reviews and star ratings.

Pennsylvania Boy Celebrates His Birthday with a Pizza Party for Cops

Jeffrey McCarty got to hobknob with cops and the local bomb squad at his ninth birthday bash.

New Board Members Named for Holding Company of Grain Craft and Southeastern Mills

Rhonda Jordan, Steve Dunphy and Rick Strait join the board of directors for G&L Holdings.

Brooklyn Pizza Master Says This West Coast City Has America's Best Pizza

It's a city without its own signature pizza style, and that's a good thing, says Anthony Falco.

Kazoopy's Pizza Gives Away Pies with a Hemp-Based Crust

The Kalamazoo, Michigan shop threw a pizza party with a little help from their friends at My Hemp Solutions.

Philly Chef Kurt Evans Will Give Ex-Offenders a Second Chance at New Pizzeria

When Down North opens around mid-November, it will feature a staff of formerly incarcerated men and women looking for a new start.

How to Make a Pizza That Looks As Good As It Tastes

A few special touches can turn a good dish into a great pizza in the customers’ eyes, says world champion pizzaiolo Mark Cosentino.

7 Hot Tips for a Better Wood-Fired Pizza

Experts explain how to get the perfect bake from your wood-burning oven (with video).
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags