Parmesan

By Katrin Koelle
Updated on 15. Oct. 2020

Parmesan cheese might originate from Italy, but it's become as classic in the U.S. as ketchup. But is this delicious, mild and ubiquitous cheese healthy? Read up here on everything you need to know about parmesan cheese.

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Parmesan cheese...

  • ...helps keep bones and teeth healthy.
    Parmesan cheese is a rich source of calcium, which helps keep teeth and bones strong.
  • ...is high in protein.
    100 g of parmesan cheese contains a whopping 35 g of protein.
  • ...is relatively low in fat.
    Compared to other cheeses, parmesan is relatively low in fat.
  • ...is versatile.
    Pasta with parmesan is practically self-evident, but the modest Italian cheese from the Parma region in Italy can do way more. Sliced into wafer-thin slices, it also tastes great in salads, with carpaccio, on vegetables or on bread, among many other recipes.
  • ...contains almost no lactose.
    If you’re lactose intolerant, chances are you can still enjoy Parmesan cheese. 100 g contains a tiny 0.06 grams of lactose, making it easily digestible for many people who can’t eat most dairy products.
  • ...tastes better with age.
    When it comes to parmesan cheese, freshness is not a sign of quality. In fact the longer parmesan is allowed to ripen, the sharper and more flavorful it becomes. The ideal length of time generally falls between one and a half to two years, although some varieties are matured up to three years.

What You Should Know About Parmesan

Parmesan cheese is perhaps Italy's most well-known and widely-beloved export, having become a staple in refrigerators across the U.S. since it was first introduced to Americans decades ago. However the proliferation and widespread popularity of this mild yet delicious cheese has rattled the soul of many a parmesan connoisseur, as more and more cheap parmesan substitutes are peddled off as the traditional cheese from Parma. In reality, that crumbly, big-brand shaker of parmesan cheese you have crammed in the back of your refrigerator can't even be considered a passable substitute for the real thing. Real parmesan cheese goes through a rigorous producion and maturation process, yielding a product that's mild yet complex, with a delicious subtle sharpness.

Parmesan is seperated by how long it's been aged  "Vecchio" parmesan, the most common variety, is aged anywhere between 18-24, while higher-quality parmesan is aged much longer. "Stravecchio" parmesan cheese, what connoisseurs consider the gold standard of parmesan, is matured between 3-4 years. 

Origin

In Italy, parmesan has been produced and consumed for over 800 years. Giovanni Boccaccio, an important Italian playwright in the 13th century, mentioned "Parmigiano" by name in his famous literary painting "Decamerone".

Taste

Parmesan has a mild yet sharp flavor, that intensifies the longer it matures. 

Find all our recipes with parmesan here.

How Healthy is Parmesan Cheese?

If you're going to eat cheese, parmesan certainly isn't the unhealthiest route you can go. It's rich in energizing protein, calcium and phosphorus to help keep teeth and bones strong, vitamin A for skin health, and contains less fat than many other types of cheese. That said, parmesan cheese, like any other cheese, isn't exactly a health food. While it's low in fat compared to other cheeses, 100 g of parmesan still contains 26 g of fat, which is considerable, and 374 calories of relatively nutrient-less calories. In moderation, however, parmesan cheese is a great snack and will provide lasting energy throughout the day thanks to its abundance of protein.

PARMESAN CHEESE NUTRITIONAL INFO (100 g)  
Calories 374
Protein 35 g
Fat 26 g
Carbohydrates 0 g
Fiber 0 g

Shopping and Cooking Tips

Purchasing

Never buy parmesan pre-shredded or grated, as this greatly effects the flavor. Instead, always buy parmesan in blocks, and cut off pieces or grate it right before eating. Simple parmesan cheese that's been matured for 12-14 months can be found in every supermarket. Older varieties matured for 18 months or more will have a stronger flavor but are more expensive and harder to find. For this latter variety, your best bet is a specialty cheese store or farmers market. 

Storage

Parmesan cheese keeps best wrapped in wax paper and stored in the refrigerator or another dark cool place, like the pantry. Stored this way, parmesan should stay good for around 4-6 weeks.

What to Make With Parmesan

Freshly grated parmesan cheese is the ultimate pasta accompaniment. Whether sprinkled over a simple spaghetti and meatballs or a hearty chicken alfredo , freshly-grated parmesan cheese adds decadent creaminess and a cheesy sharpness that makes any pasta just taste better.

In Italiy, however, parmesan is about way more than just pasta. It's a traditional topping on a variety of classic dishes, including beef carpaccio and minestrone soup, and is the base for the exquisite Italian sauce, pesto. It's delicious, sharp flavor also means that parmesan can be enjoyed on its own, nibbled on chunks of griddled bread as a delicious, quick appetizer, or sprinkled on top of arugula with a little lemon and olive oil for an elegant side salad in seconds.

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