My hopeless cholesterol won't like this post.
But Parmigiano Reggiano in Bologna is in every house, in every fridge and on the top of every serious pasta.
Some people call it the king of cheese: the truth is that in one name you find very different kind of cheese with different usage.
So take some time, fill a glass with lambrusco and be ready to update your recipe notebook.
Parmigiano Reggiano: young or old?
The first rule to know is that there isn't the right age for Parmigiano Reggiano.
Each one has its own specific properties and usage.
Do you like to have Parmigiano cubes for aperitivo?
Or ground it on a dish of passatelli or tagliatelle with ragù?
Different age, different use.
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is aged on wooden shelves for at least 12 months
You can't call it Parmigiano Reggiano before 12 months of aging on wooden shelves. Parmigiano Reggiano is a DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) cheese, so it has to follow very strict rules.
It's only after 12 months that each cheese is tested and fire-branded to become real Parmigiano.
At this stage the cheese is still soft and young, without the unique flavours and perfumes that make it famous worldwide.
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese wrapped in cloth, ready to take its typical shape
12 - 24 months
Now we're starting to talk.
After a couple of summers, Parmigiano is still quite soft but becomes more grainy and crumbly.
Also the flavour is different, perfect to taste it during aperitivo with a glass of Pignoletto or Lambrusco sparkling wines.
Alberto, my expect cheese seller in Bologna, shared with me a secret about Parmigiano.
If you like it sweeter, ask for a mountain producer: cows eat herbs and flowers, giving to cheese a tender sweetness.
24 month Parmigiano Reggiano is the perfect one for the filling of tortellini, mixed with pork loin, mortadella, egg and nutmeg.
30 - 36 months
We call it Stravecchio. Extra old, literally.
After 30 months Parmigiano Reggiano becomes dry and even more crumbly with an intense flavour.
At this stage, milk enzymes digest casein, making it suitable also for lactose intolerant and babies.
How to have it?
Take is simple, maybe with honey or Aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena to balance his sapid aroma.
Yes we can go further.
60, 72 even 90 months aged.
It's difficult and rare to find these kinds of cheese. They must have a perfect shape and aging, but the reward is a wide essence and a unique deep flavour.
Try it alone and balance its hardness with a sweet wine like Marsala or Passito.
During our tour in Modena we taste different aged Parmigiano Reggiano.
Are you the lucky one who finds the 90 months?
[Photos: Centotre Contini, Claudio Manenti, Wonsun, Cristian]