Salty, nutty, grainy and distinctly, indescribably umami; parmigiano-reggiano cheese is by far one of my favorites. 

parmigianocheeseSometimes just called parmesan, the real deal stuff goes by its full name parmigianio-reggiano, signifying the area in which it is produced. It is one of the items protected under the designation of origin, meaning to have that name it must come from the appropriate region and have followed the traditional standards of production.

Parmesan is a blend of whole unpasteurized milk and milk that has been skimmed naturally. The two milks undergo a multi-step process that ultimately results in being transformed into a cheese wheel, where they then make their way to the aging shelf. They then are allowed to age for at least 12 months, after which they undergo inspection for perfection. 

From a culinary perspective, parmigiano can be an interesting addition to both sweet and savory dishes believe it or not. It is most often grated or shredded and sprinkled on pasta or in soups and stews. It can also be baked or broiled for a more intense flavor. I have fond memories of visiting friends in Italy where a wheel of parmigiano was always sitting on the sideboard in the kitchen and we could just cut small slices off to nibble. One thing that makes parmigiano so desirable is the intensity of ‘umami’ flavor. A little bit goes a long way and it stimulates the palate and brain. The umami flavor is also what lends it to pair well with sweeter dishes like fruits and jams.

parmesanwalnutshoneyFrom a health perspective, it’s a cheese so it has all the qualities of cheese. It provides a good source of complete protein and minerals and vitamins, like calcium and vitamin B12. It satisfies the palate as well as stimulates digestion and nutrient uptake. Remember that you have umami taste receptors in your gut that appear to help regulate the digestive process as well as signal satiation, so it enhances that process. Research suggests that consuming a good quality cheese in moderation can also help regulate blood sugar and promote insulin balance.  Studies have also been conducted with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese specifically and found that it can contribute to weight management. It’s also lower in fat and lower in lactose, while being a nice source of lactobacilli, which can help balance your gut and make your belly happy. So, you can see there’s lots of good stuff going on with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. One important caveat: most cheese produced outside of Europe are not genuine parmigiano and do not necessarily follow the traditional production. They can also contain additives that are not allowed in Europe. Why? Beause in the U.S. we do not recognize designation of origin requirements or labels. If you want to be sure your cheese is high quality, traditionally processed, you will have to read your labels very carefully. 

If you want to up your mmmm factor and feel a little decadent and health conscious, try some chunks of parmesan, drizzled in raw honey and a few walnuts. Delicious and nutritious... happy brain and happy belly.