What's The Difference: Parmesan Vs. Parmigiano

It's not always the same thing.

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ILLUSTRATOR Mixi Ignacio

If you love cheese, you might be using Parmesan cheese in your dishes already. Parmesan cheese is the slightly funky, crumbly cheese that can make any pasta dish instantly better. 

What is Parmesan cheese? 

Parmesan cheese is the English translation of the Italian cheese Parmigiano Reggiano.¬†It¬†basically means "from Parma"¬†and "from Reggio".¬†(Think of it as similar to¬†Manile√Īo¬†for someone or something that comes from Manila.) "Parmigiano Reggiano" is a combo of two cities: Parma and Reggio Emilia, two¬†northern cities in Italy where the cheese was first made. Together with its neighboring cities,¬†Modena and Bologna, only this region produces and packages the local¬†Parmesan aka Parmigiano Reggiano before it's distributed. The¬†cheese¬†has been made in the area since the Middles Ages.¬†

This history is why there is a law enforced in Europe that protects Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and name. Only cheese made from this region is legally allowed to be called "Parmigiano Reggiano".  

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While Parmigiano Reggiano may be known as "Parmesan" to English-speaking people, not all Parmesan is a Parmigiano Reggiano. Confused? Here's what makes these two words mean different things: 

Only cheese produced in certain cities in Italy can be called Parmigiano Reggiano.
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1 The cheese along with its name, Parmigiano Reggiano, is protected only in Europe. 

Parmigiano Reggiano is a food that has a Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO, which is recognized in Europe. It's basically a seal of quality that honors and respects the history, origin, and name of certain products. Parmigiano Reggiano is one of these products. 

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Since the cheese has this status, it is understandably expensive. 

The word "Parmesan" in Europe is likewise protected in reference to the cheese, where "only cheeses bearing the PDO "Parmigiano Reggiano" can be sold under the denomination "Parmesan". However, this is not upheld outside of Europe. 

Outside of Europe, "Parmesan" as well as "Parmigiano Reggiano" is and can be used loosely. Despite using similar ingredients and the same techniques to create the cheese, if it's not made in the Italian region of its origin, it legally cannot be called that but in the United States, it can be. That's why many cheese products that claim to be "Parmesan" would not be considered "Parmesan" in Europe. 

Grated Parmesan cheese outside of Europe may not be Parmigiano Reggiano.
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2 Parmigiano Reggiano is only made with milk, salt, and rennet. Parmesan might contain other ingredients. 

According to the regulations under the law that protects the cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano can only legally contain three ingredients: milk, salt, and rennet. The process of making this cheese protects it from spoiling and makes it last longer, which is the original intention of the original monks who created this cheese. 

The canister of the grated cheese called "Parmesan" that you sprinkle over your pasta may have additives and even other kinds of ingredients in the cheese to preserve the cheese among others. 

All this means is that while you may not be using the real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in your pasta, Parmesan made in other countries allows you to afford and enjoy a cheese that tastes similar to the real thing. 

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