Country of originItaly
TownProvinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna (west of the River Reno) and Mantua (on the right/south bank of the River Po)
Source of milkCows (mostly Friesian and Reggiana cattle)
Aging timeMinimum: 12 months
Vecchio: 18–24 months
Stravecchio: 24–36 months
CertificationItaly: DOP: 1955
EU: PDO: 1992
Related media on Commons
The area in which Parmigiano Reggiano can be produced, according to EU and Italian PDO legislation
Parmigiano Reggiano

Parmesan (Italian: Parmigiano Reggiano, Italian: [parmiˈdʒaːno redˈdʒaːno]) is an Italian hard, granular cheese produced from cow's milk and aged at least 12 months or, outside the European Union, a locally produced imitation.

The full, legally protected, name of the Italian cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano. It is named after two of the areas which produce it, the Italian provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia (Parmigiano is the Italian adjective for the city and province of Parma and Reggiano is the adjective for the province of Reggio Emilia); in addition to Reggio Emilia and Parma, it is also produced in the part of Bologna west of the River Reno and in Modena (all of the above being located in the Emilia-Romagna region), as well as in the part of Mantua (Lombardy) which is on the south bank of the River Po.

The words Parmigiano Reggiano and Parmesan are protected designations of origin (PDO) for cheeses produced in these provinces under Italian and European law.[1] Outside the EU, the name Parmesan is legally used for similar cheeses, with only the full Italian name unambiguously referring to PDO Parmigiano Reggiano.

It has been called the "king of cheeses"[2] and "practically perfect food".[3]


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Parmigiano Reggiano is made from unpasteurised cow's milk. The whole milk of the morning milking is mixed with the naturally skimmed milk of the previous evening's milking, resulting in a part skim mixture. This mixture is pumped into copper-lined vats, which heat evenly and contribute copper ions to the mix.[4]

Copper-lined vats for the production of Parmigiano Reggiano

Starter whey (containing a mixture of certain thermophilic lactic acid bacteria) is added, and the temperature is raised to 33–35 °C (91–95 °F). Calf rennet is added, and the mixture is left to curdle for 10–12 minutes. The curd is then broken up mechanically into small pieces (around the size of rice grains). The temperature is then raised to 55 °C (131 °F) with careful control by the cheese-maker. The curd is left to settle for 45–60 minutes. The compacted curd is collected in a piece of muslin before being divided in two and placed in molds. There are 1,100 litres (290 US gal) of milk per vat, producing two cheeses each. The curd making up each wheel at this point weighs around 45 kilograms (99 lb). The remaining whey in the vat was traditionally used to feed the pigs from which prosciutto di Parma was produced. The barns for these animals were usually just a few metres away from the cheese production rooms.

Cracking open a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

The cheese is put into a stainless steel, round form that is pulled tight with a spring-powered buckle so the cheese retains its wheel shape. After a day or two, the buckle is released and a plastic belt imprinted numerous times with the Parmigiano Reggiano name, the plant's number, and month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is buckled tight again. The imprints take hold on the rind of the cheese in about a day and the wheel is then put into a brine bath to absorb salt for 20–25 days. After brining, the wheels are then transferred to the aging rooms in the plant for 12 months. Each cheese is placed on wooden shelves that can be 24 cheeses high by 90 cheeses long or 2,160 total wheels per aisle. Each cheese and the shelf underneath it is then cleaned manually or robotically every seven days, and the cheese is turned.

A Parmigiano Reggiano factory maturation room
Product process of Parmesan cheese

At 12 months, the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano (lit.'Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Consortium') inspects every wheel. The cheese is tested by a master grader who taps each wheel to identify undesirable cracks and voids within the wheel. Wheels that pass the test are then heat-branded on the rind with the Consorzio's logo. Those that do not pass the test used to have their rinds marked with lines or crosses all the way around to inform consumers that they are not getting top-quality Parmigiano Reggiano; more recent practices simply have these lesser rinds stripped of all markings.

Traditionally cows are fed only on grass or hay, producing grass-fed milk. Only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter, together with calf rennet.[5]

The only additive allowed is salt, which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated to near-total salinity with Mediterranean sea salt. The product is aged a minimum of one year and an average of two years;[6] an expert from the Consorzio typically conducts a sound test with a hammer to determine if a wheel has finished maturing.[7] The cheese is produced daily, and it can show a natural variability. True Parmigiano Reggiano cheese has a sharp, complex fruity/nutty taste with a strong savory flavor and a slightly gritty texture. Inferior versions can impart a bitter taste.

The average Parmigiano Reggiano wheel is about 18–24 cm (7–9 in) high, 40–45 cm (16–18 in) in diameter, and weighs 38 kg (84 lb).


Official logo of Parmigiano Reggiano

All producers of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese belong to the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano (lit.'Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Consortium'), which was founded in 1928.[8] Besides setting and enforcing the standards for the PDO, the Consorzio also sponsors marketing activities.[9]

As of 2017, about 3.6 million wheels (approx. 137,000 metric tons) of Parmesan are produced every year; they use about 18% of all the milk produced in Italy.[10]

Most workers in the Italian dairy industry (bergamini) belong to the Italian General Confederation of Labour. As older dairy workers retire, younger Italians have tended to work in factories or offices. Immigrants have filled that role. In 2015, 60 percent of the workers in the Parmesan industry were immigrants from India, almost all Sikhs.[11]

The Italian Credito Emiliano bank accepts wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese as collateral for debt for dairy farmers.[12][13]


Half a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese carved with a Parmesan knife and communal fork

Parmigiano Reggiano is commonly grated over pasta dishes, stirred into soups and risottos, and eaten on its own. It is often shaved or grated over other dishes such as salads.[14] Slivers and chunks of the hardest parts of the crust (also called the rind) are sometimes simmered in soups, broths, and sauces to add flavor. They can also be broiled and eaten as a snack, if they have no wax on them, or infused in olive oil or used in a steamer basket while steaming vegetables.[15]


Parmigiano Reggiano festival in Modena; each wheel (block of cheese) costs 490.
Parmigiano Reggiano being taste-tested at a festival in Modena, with balsamic vinegar drizzled on top

According to legend, Parmigiano Reggiano was created in the course of the Middle Ages in the comune (municipality) of Bibbiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia. Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th and 14th centuries, Parmigiano was already very similar to that produced today, which suggests its origins can be traced to far earlier. Some evidence suggests that the name was used for Parmesan cheese in Italy and France in the 17th-19th century.[6]

It was praised as early as 1348 in the writings of Boccaccio; in the Decameron, he invents a 'mountain, all of grated Parmesan cheese', on which 'dwell folk that do nought else but make macaroni and ravioli, and boil them in capon's broth, and then throw them down to be scrambled for; and hard by flows a rivulet of Vernaccia, the best that ever was drunk, and never a drop of water therein'.[16]

During the Great Fire of London of 1666, Samuel Pepys buried his "Parmazan cheese, as well as his wine and some other things" to preserve them.[17]

In the memoirs of Giacomo Casanova,[18] he remarked that the name Parmesan was a misnomer common throughout an "ungrateful" Europe in his time (mid-18th century), as the cheese was produced in the comune (municipality) of Lodi, in Lombardy, not Parma. Though Casanova knew his table and claimed in his memoir to have been compiling a (never completed) dictionary of cheeses, his comment has been taken to refer mistakenly to a grana cheese similar to Parmigiano, Grana Padano, which is produced in the Lodi area.[citation needed]

Parmigiano Reggiano has been the target of organized crime in Italy, particularly the Mafia or Camorra, which ambush delivery trucks on the Autostrada A1, in northern Italy, between Milan and Bologna, hijacking shipments. The cheese is ultimately sold in southern Italy.[19] Between November 2013 and January 2015, an organised crime gang stole 2039 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano from warehouses in northern and central Italy.[20]

October 27 is designated "Parmigiano Reggiano Day" by The Consortium of Parmigiano Reggiano.[21] This day celebrating the "king of cheese" originated in response to the two earthquakes hitting the area of origin in May 2012. The devastation was profound, displacing tens of thousands of residents, collapsing factories, and damaging historical churches, bell towers, and other landmarks.[21] Years of cheese production were lost during the disaster, about $50 million worth. In order to assist the cheese producers, Modena native chef Massimo Bottura created the recipe riso cacio e pepe. He invited the world to cook this new dish along with him launching "Parmigiano Reggiano Day"—October 27.[21]

Aroma and chemical components

Cheese, Parmesan, Hard
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy392 kcal (1,640 kJ)
3.22 g
Sugars0.8 g
Dietary fiber0.0 g
25.83 g
Saturated16.41 g
Monounsaturated7.52 g
Polyunsaturated0.57 g
35.75 g
Vitamin A equiv.
207 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.04 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.33 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.27 mg
Vitamin B6
0.09 mg
Folate (B9)
7 μg
Vitamin B12
1.2 μg
Vitamin C
0.0 mg
Vitamin D
19 IU
Vitamin E
0.22 mg
Vitamin K
1.7 μg
1184 mg
0.82 mg
44 mg
694 mg
92 mg
1602 mg
2.75 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water29.16 g
Percentages estimated using US recommendations for adults,[22] except for potassium, which is estimated based on expert recommendation from the National Academies.[23]

Parmigiano Reggiano has many aroma-active compounds, including various aldehydes and butyrates.[24] Butyric acid and isovaleric acid together are sometimes used to imitate the dominant aromas.[25]

Parmigiano Reggiano is also particularly high in glutamate, containing as much as 1.2 g of glutamate per 100 g of cheese. The high concentration of glutamate explains the strong umami taste of Parmigiano Reggiano.[26]

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese typically contains cheese crystals, semi-solid to gritty crystalline spots that at least partially consist of the amino acid tyrosine.[citation needed]


A wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano manufactured in January 2014 in the comune (municipality) of Spilamberto with PDO marking and "Parmigiano Reggiano" written vertically around the complete edge of the wheel. An official certification will be stamped into the central oval when it is graded.
Voice of America report showing production of the cheese and imitations using the name without authorization

The name is legally protected in the European Union and, in Italy, exclusive control is exercised over the cheese's production and sale by The Consortium of Parmigiano Reggiano, which was created by a governmental decree. Each wheel must meet strict criteria early in the aging process, when the cheese is still soft and creamy, to merit the official seal and be placed in storage for aging. Because it is widely imitated, Parmigiano Reggiano has become an increasingly regulated product, and in 1955 it became what is known as a certified name (which is not the same as a brand name). In 2008, an EU court determined that the name Parmesan in Europe only refers to Parmigiano Reggiano and cannot be used for imitation Parmesan.[27][28][29] Thus, in the European Union, Parmigiano Reggiano is a protected designation of origin (PDO); legally, the name refers exclusively to the Parmigiano Reggiano PDO cheese manufactured in a limited area in northern Italy. Special seals identify the product as authentic, with the identification number of the dairy, the production month and year, a code identifying the individual wheel and stamps regarding the length of aging.[30]

Non-European Parmesan cheese

Parmesan cheese made outside of the European Union is a family of hard grating cheeses made from cow's milk and inspired by the original Italian cheese.[31] They are generally pale yellow in color and usually used grated on dishes such as pasta, Caesar salad, and pizza.[32] Some American generic Parmesan is sold already grated and has been aged for less than 12 months.[2]

Within the European Union, the term Parmesan may only be used, by law, to refer to Parmigiano Reggiano itself, which must be made in a restricted geographic area, using stringently defined methods. In many areas outside Europe the name Parmesan has become genericised and may denote any of a number of hard Italian-style grating cheeses.[33][34] These cheeses, chiefly from the US and Argentina, are often commercialised under names intended to evoke the original, such as Parmesan, Parmigiana, Parmesana, Parmabon, Real Parma, Parmezan, or Parmezano.[2] After the European ruling that "parmesan" could not be used as a generic name, Kraft renamed its grated cheese "Pamesello" in Europe.[35]

Non-European production

Parmesan cheese is defined differently in various jurisdictions outside of Europe. In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations includes a Standard of Identity for "Parmesan and Reggiano cheese".[36] This defines both aspects of the production process and of the final result. In particular, Parmesan must be made of cow's milk, cured for 10 months or more, contain no more than 32% water, and have no less than 32% milkfat in its solids.[36] Similarly, the Canadian regulation only defines moisture and fat levels, with no restriction on aging time.[37]

Kraft Foods is a major North American producer of grated Parmesan and has been selling it since 1945.[38][39] A number of Wisconsin cheesemakers, some founded by Italian immigrants, produce Parmesan in whole wheels.[40]

A number of non-European parmesan producers have taken strong objection to the attempts of the European Union to globally control the trademark of the Parmesan name, claiming that it is more about control of trade than control of quality.[41][42][43]

Adulteration controversy

Several American manufacturers have been investigated for allegedly going beyond the 4% cellulose limit (allowed as an anticaking agent for grated cheese, 21 CFR 133.146).[44] In one case, FDA findings found "no Parmesan cheese was used to manufacture" a Pennsylvania manufacturer's grated cheese labeled "Parmesan", apparently made from a mixture of other cheeses and cellulose. The manufacturer pleaded guilty and received a sentence of three years' probation, a $5,000 fine and 200 hours of community service.[44][45]

Similar cheeses

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See also: Grana (cheese)

Grana Padano

Main article: Grana Padano

Grana Padano is an Italian cheese similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, but is produced mainly in Lombardy, where Padano refers to the Po Valley (Pianura Padana); the cows producing the milk may be fed silage as well as grass; the milk may contain slightly less fat, milk from several different days may be used, and must be aged a minimum of 9 months.


Main article: Reggianito

Reggianito is an Argentine cheese similar to Parmigiano Reggiano. Developed by Italian Argentine cheesemakers, the cheese is made in smaller wheels and aged for less time, but is otherwise broadly similar.

See also


  1. ^ Case C-132/05 Commission v Germany European Commission Legal Service, July 2008 Archived 2019-04-05 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c Olmsted, Larry (19 November 2012). "Most Parmesan Cheeses In America Are Fake, Here's Why". Forbes. Retrieved 23 March 2020. ... that it has earned the nickname in the dairy industry, the 'king of cheeses'.
  3. ^ Ruggeri, Amanda (28 January 2019). "Italy's practically perfect food". BBC. Retrieved 1 July 2024.
  4. ^ McDonough, Molly (19 July 2017). "Why Copper Vats Matter". Culture: The Word on Cheese.
  5. ^ "Standard di Produzione Archived 2006-05-13 at the Wayback Machine". Disciplinare del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano D.O.P. (fourth paragraph). Famiglia Gastaldello, 2005–2008.
  6. ^ a b "Learn the Difference Between Parmesan and Parmigiano Reggiano". The Spruce Eats. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  7. ^ "The Best Parmigiano Reggiano Tour". 23 May 2024. Retrieved 23 May 2024.
  8. ^ Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano, "The Consortium and its History"[1]
  9. ^ "2018 Export Projects". Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano.
  10. ^ CLAL (Italian dairy consulting company), "Italy: Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Production" [2]
  11. ^ Mitzman, Dany (25 June 2015). "The Sikhs who saved Parmesan". BBC News. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  12. ^ Nobel, Carmen (1 July 2015). "A Bank That Accepts Parmesan As Collateral: The Cheese Stands A Loan". Forbes. Retrieved 14 March 2024.
  13. ^ Henderson, Joanna (23 May 2022). "Why This Italian Bank Accepts Parmesan Cheese as Collateral for Loans". Lessons from History. Retrieved 14 March 2024.
  14. ^ "Discover Parmigiano Reggiano DOP". Eataly. 2 January 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  15. ^ "7 Genius Uses For Parmesan Rinds". HuffPost. 14 July 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  16. ^ Giovanni Boccaccio, Decamerone VIII 3. The translation quoted here is that by J.M. Rigg Archived 2008-10-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ See Pepys's diary entry for 4 September, 1666 Archived 2017-05-15 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Casanova, Histoire de ma vie 8:ix.
  19. ^ McMahon, Barbara (3 December 2006). "It's hard cheese for Parmesan producers targeted by Mafia". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  20. ^ "Maxi-furto di Parmigiano Reggiano: rubate 2mila forme, 11 arresti" [Parmigiano Reggiano heist: 2000 wheels stolen, 11 arrested] (in Italian). 24 September 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  21. ^ a b c "The Touching Story Behind Parmigiano Reggiano Day". La Cucina Italiana. 27 October 2020. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  22. ^ United States Food and Drug Administration (2024). "Daily Value on the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels". FDA. Archived from the original on 27 March 2024. Retrieved 28 March 2024.
  23. ^ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Committee to Review the Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium (2019). Oria, Maria; Harrison, Meghan; Stallings, Virginia A. (eds.). Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. The National Academies Collection: Reports funded by National Institutes of Health. Washington, DC: National Academies Press (US). ISBN 978-0-309-48834-1. PMID 30844154. Archived from the original on 9 May 2024. Retrieved 21 June 2024.
  24. ^ Qian, Michael; Reineccius, Gary (2003). "Potent aroma compounds in Parmigiano Reggiano cheese studied using a dynamic headspace (Purge-trap) method". Flavour and Fragrance Journal. 18 (3): 252–259. doi:10.1002/ffj.1194.
  25. ^ "I Know What I Like: Understanding Odor Preferences". The Fragrance Foundation, 2008.
  26. ^ Amy Fleming (9 April 2013). "Umami: why the fifth taste is so important". Word of Mouth blog. The Guardian. parmesan is probably the most umami ingredient in western cookery
  27. ^ Marsha A. Echols Geographical Indications for Food Products – 2008 Page 190 – "A defence was that the name 'Parmesan' has become generic and so cannot be a protected designation of origin. The Court disagreed. It commented that 'in the present case it is far from clear that the designation parmesan has become ..."
  28. ^ Bernard O'Connor – The Law of Geographical Indications – Page 136 2004 – "... name "Parmesan" may not become generic. See on http://europe/eu/int[permanent dead link], "Case Law". 44 Where a registered name contains within it the name of an agricultural product or foodstuff that is considered generic, the use of that generic name on ...
  29. ^ The Great Food Robbery: How Corporations Control Food 2012 "In 2008, however, the EU ruled that the same applied to all cheese produced under the name "Parmesan", a generic term widely used for cheeses produced around the world. The EU issued a similar ruling for Feta, claiming that it could be ...
  30. ^ Zeldes, Leah A. (6 October 2010). "Eat this! Parmigiano-Reggiano, the king of cheeses". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Archived from the original on 30 December 2010. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  31. ^ Preedy, Victor R.; Watson, Ronald Ross; Patel, Vinood B., eds. (15 October 2013). Handbook of cheese in health: Production, nutrition and medical sciences. Human Health Handbooks. Vol. 6. The Netherlands: Wageningen Academic Publishers. p. 264. doi:10.3920/978-90-8686-766-0. ISBN 978-90-8686-211-5. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  32. ^ Hintz, Martin; Percy, Pam (26 February 2008). Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and Guide to the Cheeses of Wisconsin – Martin Hintz, Pam Percy – Google Books. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780762751969. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  33. ^ Oxford Companion to Food, s.v. 'parmesan'
  34. ^ Cox, James (9 September 2003). "What's in a name?". USA Today. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  35. ^ "Parmesan vs. Parmigiano: What's the Difference?". 26 March 2018.
  36. ^ a b Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services (1 April 2006), "§ 133.165: Parmesan and reggiano cheese", Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21 – Food and Drugs, Chapter I – Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services (continued) (Parts 1–1299), Part 133 – Cheeses and related cheese products, United States Government Publishing Office, pp. 338–339
  37. ^ Legislative Services Branch (15 February 2023). "C.R.C., c. 870 B.08.033 (1) [S]. (Naming the variety) Cheese".
  38. ^ Justin M. Waggoner (12 October 2007). "Acquiring a European Taste for Geographical Indications" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 December 2017. Retrieved 22 September 2014.
  39. ^ Brodsy, Alyson (14 February 2006). "U.S. cheese maker says it can produce Parmesan faster". Indiana Daily Student. Archived from the original on 31 May 2014. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  40. ^ Paskin, Willa "A"; Juusty, Mariana "B"; Grandi, Alberto "C"; Stefanini, Giacomo "D"; Chinoto, Simone "E"; Matteski, Mike "F"; Foster, Aaron "G" (12 July 2023). "Is the Best Italian Parmesan Made in... Wisconsin?". Slate Magazine. transcript
  41. ^ "The EU tries to grab all the cheese". Politico. 8 June 2016. Retrieved 1 July 2024.
  42. ^ "Trade battle ferments over European cheeses". PBS. 11 March 2014.
  43. ^ "Europe's claims about cheese curdle the blood in Wisconsin". Baltimore Sun. 7 September 2003. Archived from the original on 24 June 2021.
  44. ^ a b Mulvany, Lydia (16 February 2016). "The Parmesan Cheese You Sprinkle on Your Penne Could Be Wood: Some Brands Promising 100 Percent Purity Contained No Parmesan at All". Bloomberg Business. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  45. ^ "Castle Cheese Company Executive Michelle Myrter Sentenced in Adulterated Cheese Case". United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Press release). United States Department of Justice. 11 October 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2023.