Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of the world's greatest cheeses, renowned for the power and complexity of its flavor. It is the best known example of a class of dry cheeses used primarily for grating, a type known to the Italians as a "grano." Cheeses of this type are manufactured all over the world, and though few come close to the rich flavor of a genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano, many are excellent in their own right.
Other Parmesan-Type Cheeses
There are many Parmesan-type cheeses made around the world, and most major manufacturers produce one or more. As a rule these are unsatisfactory mass-produced industrial products, lacking complexity and deriving much of their flavor from salt. That being said, many large and small producers have artisan cheeses in the Parmesan style. While they will not have the flavors of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the best of them express a distinct regional character of their own.
Other Italian Cheeses
Italy produces a number of other hard grating cheeses which can be used as substitutes for Parmigiano-Reggiano. Each has its own distinct character and will cause a slight difference in the taste of the finished dish, but can be substituted readily for one another. Grana padano is a Parmesan-style cheese made elsewhere in Italy, and very similar to authentic Parmesan. Asiago is widely available from both Italian and American producers, and is slightly sweeter and saltier. Pecorino Romano or Tuscano are sheep's milk cheeses, with sharper, nuttier, saltier flavors than Parmigiano-Reggiano.
There are hard grating cheeses made in other countries that can be readily substituted for Parmigano-Reggiano. Dry Jack, a version of Monterey Jack aged to grating texture, is an American equivalent. French mimoulette is similar to Parmesan, but with a deep orange color. Spanish Manchego has a rich and deep flavor, and can be grated or shaved in lieu of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The Swiss have two excellent grating cheeses, Sapsago and Sbrinz. Sbrinz is much like Parmesan, while Sapsago is lower in fat and herb-flavored. The Dutch Saenkanter is a Gouda that has been aged to a grating consistency.
Production of Grating Cheeses
Grating cheeses begin with a number of different types of milk, from the skimmed cow's milk of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the sheep's milk of the various Pecorinos. However, once the curds are made and pressed, the process is similar for most such cheeses. They are pressed into a firm mass, draining as much whey as possible from the curds. The cheese is then brined or salted, which draws moisture from the middle of the mass and creates a naturally hard rind on the outside. The cheeses are aged for varying lengths of time, as much as several years.
- Web Vision Italy: How Parmigiano-Reggiano is Made
- The Cook's Thesaurus; Firm Cheeses; Lori Alden; 2005
- "Professional Cooking"; Wayne Gisslen; 2003
- e-RCPS: Some Popular Italian Cheeses
- "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen"; Harold S. McGee; 2004
- Photo Credit Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images