Parmegiano-Reggiano is a hard, sharp dry Italian cheese made from cow’s skim milk. It is straw colored and has a rich fruity/nutty taste with a slightly gritty texture. It’s named after the Italian producing areas of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna in Emilia-Romagna, and Mantova, in Lombardy, Italy.
In Europe, the names, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan, are legally protected, it refers exclusively to the Parmegiano-Reggiano DOP cheese manufactured in a limited area in northern Italy.
Outside of Europe, the name Parmesan can be used to refer to similar cheeses produced elsewhere and is loosely used as a common term for cheeses imitating true Parmesan cheese.
The cheese making process is very interesting and can be found in a number of sources. I suggest reading about the process in Wikipedia.
According to Wikipedia, after the cheese is made it 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.
The average Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel is about 7-9 inches high and 16-18 inches in diameter, and weighs approximately 80 pounds. It is aged for a minimum of 12 months and up to 48 months. On average it is aged 2 years.
It is available year round and its uses include being grated over pasta dishes, soups and risotto. It can also be eaten in chunks with balsamic vinegar. It is a key ingredient in many sauces.
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