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5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Parmigiano Reggiano

The use of the Italian cheese is regulated by a governing body—much like champagne and hot couture.

Ask the chef at your closest Italian kitchen and you’ll always get a similar response: parmesan is indispensable to Italian cooking. Made through a meticulous process in Italy, parmigiano reggiano is a hard cheese, formed with pure cow’s milk and often grated onto many kinds Italian meals from salads to pastas. Through an eight century old recipe, the cheese is formed into wheels during production in which it ages (for a least a year) much like wine with flavours getting more complex with every passing year.

Moreover, each wheel has to go thorough a thorough inspection from the Consortium of parmigiano reggiano (established in 1934), and marked with an official seal of approval.

Here, five interesting uncommon facts about the Italian cheese.

Parmigiano Reggiano is protected by a DOP

Italian products with a DOP, or protected designation of origin (denominazione di origine protetta in Italian) have very specific guidelines to be considered authentic. Similar to parmigiano reggiano, in order to be considered true champagne, the beverage must come from the region of Champagne in France. Otherwise, it’s only sparkling wine. One of these rules is where authentic parmigiano reggiano can be produced which only includes five very specific locations in Italy: Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena, Mantua (south of Po river) and Bologna (west of Reno river). This is a legal protection in the EU since 1996. Genuine parmigiano reggiano contains an embossed rind with dotted letters that has the name of the cheese, date of production and seal of approval from the Consortium. Within the borders of the EU, anything sold under the names parmesan and parmigiano reggiano must be legally designated by the consortium.

It is made with three ingredients

Only three ingredients are used in the making of every wheel of parmigiano reggiano: milk, salt and rennet. The milk is raw and unpasteurized produced only in the designated region and has to be delivered within two hours from the end of the milking session. Rennet is a natural enzyme from the calf intestine that helps the cheese mature and develop its flavours.

The cheese is better aged

With every passing year, a wheel of parmigiano reggiano adds more flavour, with every wheel aged at least one year. Eighteen-month matured cheese is mild and sweet, while at the 24-month mark, the cheese matures into a grainier and savoury flavour combination, culminating at three years with a salty and nutty flavour.

Parmesan can be consumed by people who are lactose intolerant

Although it is a dairy product made with 550 litres of milk to make one wheel, because of the aging process and its additional gained nutrients, the cheese can be consumed by people who lack the lactase enzyme. It also includes up to 50 percent of a daily calcium intake and is a source of vitamins A and D, iron and potassium.

The cheese has made it to space

Not only is parmesan ubiquitous on earth, but parmigiano reggiano is the cheese of choice in space for astronauts by both the U.S. and Russian space programs.