Parmesan (Italian: Parmigiano Reggiano; Italian pronunciation: [parmiˈdʒaːno redˈdʒaːno]) is an Italian hard, granular cheese produced from cows' milk and aged at least 12 months.

Parmigiano Reggiano
Parmesan cheese
Parmigiano Reggiano
A Parmesan cheese
Other namesParmigiano-Reggiano
Country of originItaly
TownProvinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna (west of the Reno) and Mantua (on the right/south bank of the Po)
Source of milkCows (mostly Friesian and Reggiana cattle)
Aging timeMinimum: 12 months
Vecchio: 18–24 months
Stravecchio: 24–36 months
CertificationItaly: DOP 1955
EU: PDO 1992
Related media on Commons
The area in which Parmigiano Reggiano can be produced, according to EU and Italian PDO legislation

It is named after two of the areas which produce it, the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia (Parmigiano is the Italian adjective for Parma and Reggiano that for Reggio Emilia). In addition to Reggio Emilia and Parma, it is also produced in the part of Bologna west of the River Reno and in Modena (all of the above being located in the Emilia-Romagna region), as well as in the part of Mantua (Lombardy) which is on the south bank of the River Po.

Both "Parmigiano Reggiano" and "Parmesan" are protected designations of origin (PDO) for cheeses produced in these provinces under Italian and European law.[1] Outside the EU, the name "Parmesan" can legally be used for similar cheeses, with only the full Italian name unambiguously referring to PDO Parmigiano Reggiano.

It has been called the "King of Cheeses".[2]

Parmigiano Reggiano Production

Parmigiano Reggiano is made from unpasteurised cows' milk. The whole milk of the morning milking is mixed with the naturally skimmed milk (which is made by keeping milk in large shallow tanks to allow the cream to separate) of the previous evening's milking, resulting in a part skim mixture. This mixture is pumped into copper-lined vats, which heat evenly and contribute copper ions to the mix.[3]

Copper-lined vats for the production of Parmigiano Reggiano

Starter whey (containing a mixture of certain thermophilic lactic acid bacteria) is added, and the temperature is raised to 33–35 °C (91–95 °F). Calf rennet is added, and the mixture is left to curdle for 10–12 minutes. The curd is then broken up mechanically into small pieces (around the size of rice grains). The temperature is then raised to 55 °C (131 °F) with careful control by the cheese-maker. The curd is left to settle for 45–60 minutes. The compacted curd is collected in a piece of muslin before being divided in two and placed in molds. There are 1,100 litres (290 US gal) of milk per vat, producing two cheeses each. The curd making up each wheel at this point weighs around 45 kilograms (99 lb). The remaining whey in the vat was traditionally used to feed the pigs from which Prosciutto di Parma (cured Parma ham) was produced. The barns for these animals were usually just a few metres away from the cheese production rooms.

Cracking open a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

The cheese is put into a stainless steel, round form that is pulled tight with a spring-powered buckle so the cheese retains its wheel shape. After a day or two, the buckle is released and a plastic belt imprinted numerous times with the Parmigiano Reggiano name, the plant's number, and month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is buckled tight again. The imprints take hold on the rind of the cheese in about a day and the wheel is then put into a brine bath to absorb salt for 20–25 days. After brining, the wheels are then transferred to the aging rooms in the plant for 12 months. Each cheese is placed on wooden shelves that can be 24 cheeses high by 90 cheeses long or 2160 total wheels per aisle. Each cheese and the shelf underneath it is then cleaned manually or robotically every seven days, and the cheese is turned.

A Parmigiano Reggiano factory maturation room
Product process of Parmesan cheese

At 12 months, the Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano inspects every wheel. The cheese is tested by a master grader who taps each wheel to identify undesirable cracks and voids within the wheel. Wheels that pass the test are then heat-branded on the rind with the Consorzio's logo. Those that do not pass the test used to have their rinds marked with lines or crosses all the way around to inform consumers that they are not getting top-quality Parmigiano Reggiano; more recent practices simply have these lesser rinds stripped of all markings.

Traditionally cows are fed only on grass or hay, producing grass-fed milk. Only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter, together with calf rennet.[4]

The only additive allowed is salt, which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated to near-total salinity with Mediterranean sea salt. The product is aged an average of two years.[5] The cheese is produced daily, and it can show a natural variability. True Parmigiano Reggiano cheese has a sharp, complex fruity/nutty taste with a strong savory flavour and a slightly gritty texture. Inferior versions can impart a bitter taste.

The average Parmigiano Reggiano wheel is about 18–24 cm (7–9 in) high, 40–45 cm (16–18 in) in diameter, and weighs 38 kg (84 lb).


Official logo of Parmigiano Reggiano

All producers of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese belong to the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Consortium), which was founded in 1928.[6] Besides setting and enforcing the standards for the PDO, the Consorzio also sponsors marketing activities.[7]

As of 2017, about 3.6 million wheels (approx. 137,000 metric tons) of Parmesan are produced every year; they use about 18% of all the milk produced in Italy.[8]

Most workers in the Italian dairy industry (bergamini) belong to the Italian General Confederation of Labour. As older dairy workers retire, younger Italians have tended to work in factories or offices. Immigrants have filled that role, with 60% of the workers in the Parmesan industry now immigrants from India, almost all Sikhs.[9]


Parmigiano Reggiano is commonly grated over pasta dishes, stirred into soups and risottos, and eaten on its own. It is often shaved or grated over other dishes like salads.[10]

Half a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese carved with a Parmesan knife and communal fork

Slivers and chunks of the hardest parts of the crust (also called the rind) are sometimes simmered in soups, broths, and sauces to add flavour. They can also be broiled and eaten as a snack if they have no wax on them. They can also be infused in olive oil or used in a steamer basket while steaming vegetables.[11]


Parmigiano Reggiano festival in Modena; each wheel (block of cheese) costs 490
Parmigiano Reggiano being taste-tested at a festival in Modena, with balsamic vinegar drizzled on top

According to legend, Parmigiano Reggiano was created in the course of the Middle Ages in Bibbiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia. Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th and 14th centuries, Parmigiano was already very similar to that produced today, which suggests its origins can be traced to far earlier. Some evidence suggests that the name was used for Parmesan cheese in Italy and France in the 17th-19th century.[5]

It was praised as early as 1348 in the writings of Boccaccio; in the Decameron, he invents a 'mountain, all of grated Parmesan cheese', on which 'dwell folk that do nought else but make macaroni and ravioli, and boil them in capon's broth, and then throw them down to be scrambled for; and hard by flows a rivulet of Vernaccia, the best that ever was drunk, and never a drop of water therein.'[12]

During the Great Fire of London of 1666, Samuel Pepys buried his "Parmazan cheese, as well as his wine and some other things" to preserve them.[13]

In the memoirs of Giacomo Casanova,[14] he remarked that the name "Parmesan" was a misnomer common throughout an "ungrateful" Europe in his time (mid-18th century), as the cheese was produced in the town of Lodi, Lombardy, not Parma. Though Casanova knew his table and claimed in his memoir to have been compiling a (never completed) dictionary of cheeses, his comment has been taken to refer mistakenly to a grana cheese similar to "Parmigiano", Grana Padano, which is produced in the Lodi area.

Parmigiano Reggiano has been the target of organized crime in Italy, particularly the Mafia or Camorra, which ambush delivery trucks on the Autostrada A1 in northern Italy between Milan and Bologna, hijacking shipments. The cheese is ultimately sold in southern Italy.[15] Between November 2013 and January 2015, an organised crime gang stole 2039 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano from warehouses in northern and central Italy.[16]

October 27 is designated "Parmigiano Reggiano Day" by The Consortium of Parmigiano Reggiano.[17]

This day celebrating the "King of Cheese" originated in response to the two earthquakes hitting the area of origin in May 2012. The devastation was profound, displacing tens of thousands of residents, collapsing factories, and massively damaging historical churches, bell towers, and other landmarks.[18]

Years of cheese production were lost during the disaster, about $50 million worth, reported by the New York Times, potentially threatening the livelihood of cheesemakers whose families produced this product for generations. It was Modena native and renowned Chef Massimo Bottura, who The Consortium turned to for an outsized solution to help save the cheese. Bottura's three-Michelin starred Osteria Francescana, named the World's Top Restaurant in 2018 and 2016 by the prestigious San Pellegrino ranking (now in its Hall of Fame) is located in his hometown near the quake's epicenter. Massimo Bottura's response to the situation was a single recipe: Riso cacio e pepe. He invited the world through social media and online outlets to cook this new dish along with him launching "Parmigiano Reggiano Day" - October 27.[18]

Aroma and chemical components

Cheese, Parmesan, Hard
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy392 kcal (1,640 kJ)
3.22 g
Sugars0.8 g
Dietary fiber0.0 g
25.83 g
Saturated16.41 g
Monounsaturated7.52 g
Polyunsaturated0.57 g
35.75 g
Vitamin A equiv.
207 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.04 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.33 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.27 mg
Vitamin B6
0.09 mg
Folate (B9)
7 μg
Vitamin B12
1.2 μg
Vitamin C
0.0 mg
Vitamin D
19 IU
Vitamin E
0.22 mg
Vitamin K
1.7 μg
1184 mg
0.82 mg
44 mg
694 mg
92 mg
1602 mg
2.75 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water29.16 g
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA FoodData Central

Parmigiano has many aroma-active compounds, including various aldehydes and butyrates.[19] Butyric acid and isovaleric acid together are sometimes used to imitate the dominant aromas.[20]

Parmigiano is also particularly high in glutamate, containing as much as 1.2 g of glutamate per 100 g of cheese. The high concentration of glutamate explains the strong umami taste of Parmigiano.[21]

Parmigiano cheese typically contains cheese crystals, semi-solid to gritty crystalline spots that at least partially consist of the amino acid tyrosine.

Uses of the name

A wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano manufactured in January 2014 in Spilamberto with DOP marking and "Parmigiano Reggiano" written vertically around the complete edge of the wheel. An official certification will be stamped into the central oval when it is graded.
Voice of America report showing production of the cheese and imitations using the name without authorization

The name is legally protected in the European Union and, in Italy, exclusive control is exercised over the cheese's production and sale by the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese Consorzio, which was created by a governmental decree. Each wheel must meet strict criteria early in the aging process, when the cheese is still soft and creamy, to merit the official seal and be placed in storage for aging. Because it is widely imitated, Parmigiano Reggiano has become an increasingly regulated product, and in 1955 it became what is known as a certified name (which is not the same as a brand name). In 2008, an EU court determined that the name "Parmesan" in Europe only refers to Parmigiano Reggiano and cannot be used for imitation Parmesan.[22][23][24] Thus, in the European Union, "Parmigiano Reggiano" is a protected designation of origin (PDO – DOP in Italian); legally, the name refers exclusively to the Parmigiano Reggiano PDO cheese manufactured in a limited area in northern Italy. Special seals identify the product as authentic, with the identification number of the dairy, the production month and year, a code identifying the individual wheel and stamps regarding the length of aging.[25]

Non-European Parmesan cheese

Parmesan cheese made outside of the European Union is a family of hard grating cheeses made from cows' milk and inspired by the original Italian cheese.[26] They are generally pale yellow in color and usually used grated on dishes such as pasta, Caesar salad and pizza.[27] Some American generic Parmesan is sold already grated and has been aged for less than 12 months.[2]

Within the European Union, the term Parmesan may be used, by law, to refer only to Parmigiano Reggiano itself, which must be made in a restricted geographic area, using stringently defined methods. In many areas outside Europe the name "Parmesan" has become genericised and may denote any of a number of hard Italian-style grating cheeses,[28][29] often commercialised under names intended to evoke the original, such as Parmesan, Parmigiana, Parmesana, Parmabon, Real Parma, Parmezan, or Parmezano.[2] After the European ruling that "parmesan" could not be used as a generic name, Kraft renamed its grated cheese "Pamesello" in Europe. [30]

Non-European production

Parmesan cheese is defined differently in various jurisdictions outside of Europe. In the United States the Code of Federal Regulations includes a Standard of Identity for "Parmesan and reggiano cheese".[31] This defines both aspects of the production process and of the final result. In particular, Parmesan must be made of cow's milk, cured for 10 months or more, contain no more than 32% water, and have no less than 32% milkfat in its solids.[31]

Kraft Foods is a major North American producer of Parmesan and has been selling it since 1945.[32][33]

A number of non-European parmesan producers have taken strong objection to the attempts of the European Union to globally control the trademark of the Parmesan name, claiming that it is more about control of trade than control of quality. [34] [35][36]

Adulteration controversy

Several manufacturers have been investigated for allegedly going beyond the 4% cellulose limit.[37] In one case, FDA findings found "no parmesan cheese was used to manufacture" a Pennsylvania manufacturer's grated cheese labeled "Parmesan", apparently made from a mixture of other cheeses and cellulose. The manufacturer declared bankruptcy in 2014 and their president was expected to plead guilty to criminal charges, facing up to $100,000 in fines and a year in jail.[37]

Similar cheeses

Grana Padano

Grana Padano is an Italian cheese similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, but is produced mainly in Lombardy, where "Padano" refers to the Po Valley (Pianura Padana); the cows producing the milk may be fed silage as well as grass; the milk may contain slightly less fat, milk from several different days may be used, and must be aged a minimum of 9 months.

Gran Moravia

Gran Moravia is a cheese from the Czech Republic similar to Grana Padano and Parmigiano.[38]


Reggianito is an Argentine cheese similar to Parmigiano. Developed by Italian Argentine cheesemakers, the cheese is made in smaller wheels and aged for less time, but is otherwise broadly similar.

See also


  1. Case C-132/05 Commission v Germany European Commission Legal Service, July 2008 Archived 2019-04-05 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Olmsted, Larry (November 19, 2012). "Most Parmesan Cheeses In America Are Fake, Here's Why". Forbes. Retrieved 2020-03-23. ... that it has earned the nickname in the dairy industry, 'The King of Cheeses'.
  3. Molly McDonough, "Why Copper Vats Matter", Culture: The Word on Cheese July 19, 2017
  4. "Standard di Produzione Archived 2006-05-13 at the Wayback Machine". Disciplinare del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano D.O.P. (fourth paragraph). Famiglia Gastaldello, 2005–2008.
  5. "Learn the Difference Between Parmesan and Parmigiano Reggiano". The Spruce Eats. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  6. Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano, "The Consortium and its History"
  7. Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano, "2018 Export Projects"
  8. CLAL (Italian dairy consulting company), "Italy: Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Production"
  9. Mitzman, Dany (25 June 2015). "The Sikhs who saved Parmesan". BBC News. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  10. "Discover Parmigiano Reggiano DOP". Eataly. 2021-01-02. Retrieved 2021-04-23.
  11. "7 Genius Uses For Parmesan Rinds". HuffPost. 2016-07-14. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  12. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decamerone VIII 3. The translation quoted here is that by J.M. Rigg Archived 2008-10-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. See Pepys's diary entry for 4 September, 1666
  14. Casanova, Histoire de ma vie 8:ix.
  15. McMahon, Barbara (3 December 2006). "It's hard cheese for Parmesan producers targeted by Mafia". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  16. "Maxi-furto di Parmigiano Reggiano: rubate 2mila forme, 11 arresti" [Parmigiano Reggiano heist: 2000 wheels stolen, 11 arrested] (in Italian). 24 September 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  17. "The Touching Story Behind Parmigiano Reggiano Day". La Cucina Italiana. 2020-10-27. Retrieved 2022-01-03.
  18. "The Touching Story Behind Parmigiano Reggiano Day". La Cucina Italiana. 2020-10-27. Retrieved 2022-01-04.
  19. Qian, Michael; Reineccius, Gary. "Potent Aroma Compounds in Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Studied Using a Dynamic Headspace (purge-trap) Method". Flavour and Fragrance Journal, Volume 18 Issue 3, 7 April 2003 (pp. 252–259).
  20. "I Know What I Like: Understanding Odor Preferences". The Fragrance Foundation, 2008.
  21. Amy Fleming (9 April 2013). "Umami: why the fifth taste is so important". Word of Mouth blog. The Guardian. parmesan is probably the most umami ingredient in western cookery
  22. Marsha A. Echols Geographical Indications for Food Products – 2008 Page 190 – "A defence was that the name 'Parmesan' has become generic and so cannot be a protected designation of origin. The Court disagreed. It commented that 'in the present case it is far from clear that the designation parmesan has become ..."
  23. Bernard O'Connor – The Law of Geographical Indications – Page 136 2004 – "... name "Parmesan" may not become generic. See on http://europe/eu/int%5B%5D, "Case Law". 44 Where a registered name contains within it the name of an agricultural product or foodstuff that is considered generic, the use of that generic name on ...
  24. The Great Food Robbery: How Corporations Control Food 2012 "In 2008, however, the EU ruled that the same applied to all cheese produced under the name "Parmesan", a generic term widely used for cheeses produced around the world. The EU issued a similar ruling for Feta, claiming that it could be ...
  25. Zeldes, Leah A. (2010-10-06). "Eat this! Parmigiano-Reggiano, the king of cheeses". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Archived from the original on December 30, 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-17.
  26. Preedy, Victor R.; Watson, Ronald Ross; Patel, Vinood B., eds. (2013-10-15). Handbook of cheese in health: Production, nutrition and medical sciences. Human Health Handbooks. Vol. 6. The Netherlands: Wageningen Academic Publishers. p. 264. doi:10.3920/978-90-8686-766-0. ISBN 978-90-8686-211-5. Retrieved 2014-05-30.
  27. Hintz, Martin; Percy, Pam (2008-02-26). Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and Guide to the Cheeses of Wisconsin – Martin Hintz, Pam Percy – Google Books. ISBN 9780762751969. Retrieved 2014-05-30.
  28. Oxford Companion to Food, s.v. 'parmesan'
  29. Cox, James (9 September 2003). "What's in a name?". USA Today. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  31. Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services (April 1, 2006),  133.165: Parmesan and reggiano cheese" (PDF), Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21 – Food and Drugs, Chapter I – Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services (continued) (Parts 1–1299), Part 133 – Cheeses and related cheese products, United States Government Publishing Office, pp. 338–339
  32. Justin M. Waggoner (12 October 2007). "Acquiring a European Taste for Geographical Indications" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-12-06. Retrieved 2014-09-22.
  33. Brodsy, Alyson. "U.S. cheese maker says it can produce Parmesan faster | Business | Indiana Daily Student". Archived from the original on 2014-05-31. Retrieved 2014-05-30.
  37. Lydia Mulvany. The Parmesan Cheese You Sprinkle on Your Penne Could Be Wood: Some Brands Promising 100 Percent Purity Contained No Parmesan at All. Bloomberg Business. 16 February 2016. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  38. Smetana, Jiří (15 February 2010). "Italové kupují český "parmazán" z Litovle" (in Czech). iDnes. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
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