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Nothing is as satisfying as sprinkling a healthy helping of parmesan onto a fresh plate of pasta.

While there are several other kinds of cheese to choose from, parmesan reigns supreme as the classic choice for Italian-style cuisine. Even a light dusting of this umami-rich cheese can transform virtually any savory dish into a culinary delight.

Despite this cheese’s supreme versatility and ability to complement any dish, its quality can be difficult to discern unless you understand a bit about parmesan.

In reality, not all parmesan is created equal, and some aren’t even classified as parmesan at all. It is possible the parmesan cheese in your fridge is an imposter. The question is, how do you know? 

The Low Down On The Real Deal

Here’s the deal: real parmesan cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano, and parmesan cheese is an imitation of it. While cheese connoisseurs may think they have it all figured out, there’s a lot of confusion surrounding parmesan in America.

Moreover, the word “parmesan” is not regulated in the states. In this way, cheese can be labeled as parmesan and be considered authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, when it’s really not.

Parmigiano Reggiano is the only authentic parmesan cheese. All wheels will be covered in dots spelling out Parmigiano Reggiano.
(paulista/Shutterstock.com)

Only cheese produced in Bologna, Mantua, Modena, or Parma may carry the “Parmigiano-Reggiano” designation according to Italian law. Also, under European law, both the name and the translation, “parmesan,” are protected as designations of origin.

So how do you know if you’re getting the real deal? There are a few ways to tell. 

How To Spot Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano

Most of us have heard of the infamous wood pulp controversy surrounding parmesan cheese. Following such revelations, parmesan without the added extras like wood pulp or plant fibers obviously is ideal. But still, how can you be positively certain that what you have in your fridge is authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano? 

  1. Keep an eye out for Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, or Protected Designation of Origin. DOP stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta, meaning that the Parmigiano Reggiano is guaranteed by the European Union to be authentic and produced in the original town or region with real, trusted ingredients.
  2. Whenever possible, opt for Parmigiano-Reggiano that’s straight from the wheel. While pre-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano’s may have a decent flavor, they are rarely authentic and are often extremely dry.
  3. Pre-sliced wedges often bear the DOP label of the cheese’s origin on their packaging. Alternatively, if you’re having the cheese cut directly from the wheel, you can always ask where it was imported from. 

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