Ask what someone plans to do with that wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano® cheese and the most likely answer is, “Grate it!” Well, of course. A sprinkle of grated cheese is a wonderful condiment for all kinds of foods. Pastas, risotto, soups, a gratin topping for vegetables or mac and cheese, scrambled eggs or a frittata. The list of possible uses for grated Parmesan is endless.
Because grated Parmesan cheese melts beautifully, it is also an ideal ingredient for sauces, casseroles and other dishes.
Because of its granular structure, Parmigiano Reggiano is super easy to grate. It shatters readily into small grated fragments, a quality that is technically called friability. You can successfully use any kind of grater, from a standard box grater to a microplane.
Parmigiano Reggiano is often cited as an example of umami, the satisfyingly savory flavor known to Japanese as the “fifth taste.” The beauty of grated Parmesan is that it doesn’t necessarily call attention to itself. Blending with other ingredients, it adds depth of flavor and a sophisticated touch.
Of course, there are times when grated Parmesan plays a leading role in the flavor profile of a dish—a Parmigiano Reggiano soufflé, for instance.
Before purchasing grated Parmesan, check to make sure Parmigiano Reggiano was used and that it was grated recently. To prevent oxidation, the container should be filled to the top, or transfer to a recloseable plastic bag.
Parmigiano Reggiano shards or shavings make a great garnish for salads, soups or hors d’oeuvres. It’s easy to do—holding the Parmesan wedge with one hand, use a vegetable peeler to carve shards or shavings. It’s easiest to let them drop directly on the dish you are making.
Try adding some punchy Parmesan flavor to a grilled steak by topping it with shards. They also are a great last minute addition to roasted asparagus and can add some really appealing texture and flavor to a mushroom risotto.
Grating is the most popular use of Parmigiano Reggiano, but certainly not the only one. This cheese also makes a wonderful table cheese, whether it’s part of an antipasto platter or simply eaten as an afternoon snack.
Rather than sawing through the cheese, create chunks. With the classic almond knife or a small utility knife, use a gentle prying motion to break apart the cheese in small, irregularly shaped chunks. These can be served on their own or accompany other foods such as prosciutto or salami, whole toasted almonds, fresh or dried fruits.
Whether your Parmesan is grated or cut in chunks or shards, don’t throw out the rinds. Completely edible, they add wonderful flavor to soups, stews and broths. You don’t have to use them right away, either. Just refrigerate in a recloseable plastic bag until needed.
When you’re ready to cook, give the rind a good scrub under water and simmer for one hour or more in a liquid, stew, sauce or soup. When the cooking is complete, discard the rind—or cut it in small cubes and return to the dish. To add a trendy chef’s touch, fry the cooked Parmesan cubes and use as a garnish.
In short, grated cheese is great but there are lots of other ways to enjoy Parmigiano Reggiano!