When we think ofItaly and especiallyEmilia Romagna, Parmigiano Reggiano is undoubtedly one of the first ingredients that comes to mind; it is part of the history and tradition of this region.
In fact, this extraordinary cheese is appreciated worldwide for its authentic taste, but also for its connection to the land where it has been produced with passion and care for more than 900 years .
Here is what the history of Parmesan cheese is, how it is produced, what its nutritional characteristics are, and some simple and genuine combinations to enjoy it at its best.
The history of Parmesan cheese between culture and tradition
In Emilia Romagna, one of the most anticipated field trips for school children and youth is a visit to the dairy. Because in my hometown of Parma, Parmigiano is not just a food, but a real tradition that is passed down from generation to generation.
Tying Parmigiano to its territory of origin is a microbiological characteristic: in fact, raw milk from the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and part of the provinces of Mantua (to the right of the Po) and Bologna (to the left of the Reno) is used to produce it. This is a special milk, characterized by intense bacterial activity of indigenous microbial flora that is influenced by certain environmental elements, particularly the forages and hay on which local cows are fed.
For this very reason, during the Parmesan production process, no additives, preservatives or laboratory-selected bacteria are used: milk coagulation occurs solely through the addition of rennet and the whey graft obtained from the previous day’s processing, a real concentrate of lactic acid bacteria .
What Parmigiano Reggiano is and what it looks like
Parmesan is a cooked, non-pressed cheese and is distinguished by its hard, slowly ripened texture. It is produced in Emilia only with raw milk, rennet and salt, and artisanal methods are handed down to make it, which are specified in the Production Specification accepted by the EU. Unlike other products, Parmigiano Reggiano PDO cannot receive the quality mark until after 12 actual months of aging (which can extend beyond 72 months!).
Nutritional values and digestibility of Parmesan cheese
Parmesan is an all-natural cheese consisting of only three ingredients: raw milk, rennet and salt. A good part of the nutritional component is made up of the high biological value protein (33 gr per 100 gr of product), but it is also a source of calcium and is rich in B vitamins, iron and zinc, all of which also help our immune system.
Parmesan cheese is also considered a highly digestible product . Thanks to processing and slow curing processes, proteins with high biological value (i.e., containing all what are called ‘essential’ amino acids, which our body cannot synthesize on its own) are fragmented into smaller ‘pieces,’ the peptides, from which our digestive system extracts the essential amino acids with less difficulty, digesting the product with ease. Another aspect not to be underestimated is the low lactose content.
In addition, thanks to a Recent scientific research coordinated by Marco Ventura and Francesca Turroni, it was possible to reconstruct precisely the Parmesan microbiota, highlighting how “the intake of this ingredient has an important nutritional role in the human diet and a health effect guaranteed by the transfer of microorganisms that can modulate and enrich the human gut microbiota“.
Doses and frequency of consumption of Parmesan cheese
Parmigiano Reggiano is a product of excellence, but like all cheeses it must be consumed in the correct doses, despite having a lower fat content than other aged cheeses (28.4 grams per 100 grams of edible portion).
The recommended consumption in association with first courses, in the grated version, is 5/10 grams, a tablespoonful indicatively; while in case it is consumed as a second course, it is advisable not to exceed the dose of 40/50 grams a couple of times a week.
Pairings and recipes with Parmesan cheese
Parmesan cheese is a very versatile ingredient that can be paired, in the grated version, with pasta dishes such as risotto or stuffed pasta, as well as with side dishes, snacks, and desserts.
A popular pairing, either as a pasta topping or as a light appetizer, is Parmesan cheese with asparagus. For salad lovers, two excellent recipes that are genuine and very easy to prepare are raw artichoke salad with Parmesan shavings and salad with arugula, pears, walnuts and Parmesan shavings.
This ingredient is also very suitable as a nutritious snack afterphysical activity: you can accompany a piece of cheese with fresh fruit such as grapes, figs, pears and apples, or dried fruit. Finally, we must not forget the ultimate dessert for cheese lovers: a nice piece of Parmigiano with honey or balsamic vinegar.