Parmesan cheese reviews

You don't have to go to a deli to get good parmesan.
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  • Updated:28 Jun 2007

03.Buying, storing and serving

Buying parmesan

Use these tips to help you buy:

  • Before buying a precut wedge from the supermarket, check the pack is tightly sealed — any exposure to air results in oxidation, which compromises quality.
  • A specialist deli or cheesemonger might offer more choice, and you can ask to taste a sample before you buy. A good retailer should be able to tell you about the cheese — how old it is and where it’s from, for example.
  • Parmesan should taste sweet, slightly fruity and slightly ‘lipolytic’. It should have a firm, dry and ‘close’ body (no openings). Despite its granular structure it should have a smooth texture that melts in your mouth. Depending on the age, it can be pale and creamy (if it’s young) to a deep straw-yellow (at 2–3 years).
  • Common faults include being overly lipolytic, stale, over/undersalted, lacking flavour, having a weak or open body, or suffering from free moisture, surface discolouration or excessive lactic acid (which shows as calcium lactate crystals). For an explanation of these terms, see Jargon buster
  • If you’re after authentic Italian parmesan look for the branding on the rind: Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano is imprinted in dots on the rind (see the photo, page 13) along with the producer’s number and the month and year of production. Each wheel is inspected individually to ensure it meets the necessary standards before it’s sent for sale. Cheeses that pass the test are heat-branded on the rind with the consortium’s logo. Parmigiano Reggiano wheels whose testing indicates that they’re best eaten young are marked with parallel grooves around the circumference of the wheel. They’re known as ‘Parmigiano Reggiano Prima Stagionatura’.
  • Older doesn’t necessarily mean better — it’s really down to individual preference and what you’re using it for. The more mature the parmesan, the stronger the flavour, and the drier, crumblier and grainier the texture.
  • If the cheese is sold precut, chances are you won’t know when it was produced, although some brands have ‘aged for a minimum of…’ or ‘matured for…’ and the number of months on the label. The Parmigiano Reggiano consortium this year authorised the use of stamps that indicate the minimum maturity of its parmesans (lobster-coloured for more than 18 months’ maturation, silver for more than 22 months and gold for more than 30). But use of the stamps is optional.

Storing parmesan

  • Unless you have a cool, damp cellar with a constant temperature, the best place to store parmesan is in the warmest part of the fridge, at about 4°C.
  • Advice varies as to how cheese should be wrapped. Aficionados would have you keep any cuts from whole wheels wrapped in wax paper or clean, damp cotton cloth to allow the cheese to breathe and avoid it sweating. But wrapping parmesan in cling film or foil is perfectly OK, according to the consortiums.
  • What’s certain is that quality soon deteriorates after parmesan is cut from the wheel, or the vacuum pack is opened and it’s exposed to the air. And as ideal cheese storage conditions are difficult to replicate at home, it’s best to only buy enough for use within a few days of purchase.

Serving parmesan

  • Parmesan is best known as a grating cheese, and is wonderful sprinkled over pasta dishes or stirred into soup or risottos. But don’t stop there. If you’ve spent money on good-quality parmesan, try serving it as parmesan petals in a salad, or make it the feature of a cheese board.
  • Younger parmesans are ideal served with dry white wines and as an accompaniment to fresh fruit such as pears and green apples. Older parmesans go well with red wines or dessert wines, and are great served with prunes and dried figs or in chunks drizzled with a good-quality balsamic vinegar. Just don’t serve it straight from the fridge — take it out an hour or so beforehand, unwrap it and let it breathe in order to accentuate its aroma and flavour.
  • If you’ve only got a cheap block of parmesan, parmesan chips are delicious, and dead easy to make. Place heaped tablespoons of grated parmesan onto a tray lined with baking paper. Cook at 160ºC for 8–10 minutes — or until dark golden — then cool and serve the chips with your favourite dip, or simply on their own.
  • For recipe suggestions, and details of parmesan producers and how the cheese is made, go to the consortium websites:

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