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The History of Parmesan
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The History of Parmesan

Parmesan, a name that evokes images of finely grated cheese sprinkled over warm, comforting dishes, has a story deeply rooted in the annals of history, dating back to the Middle Ages. While the average American may casually refer to any hard, granular cheese as Parmesan, the true epicure knows that authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano is the only real deal. Yet, the journey from a monastic creation to a globally cherished delicacy is rich with innovation, protectionism, and ultimately, a quest for authenticity.

The Monastic Origins

Around 900 years ago, the Benedictine monks in the Parma-Reggio region of Italy embarked on a culinary quest to extend the shelf-life of their copious milk production. Their ingenious solution was Parmigiano-Reggiano. This cheese, first documented in 1254, was born out of necessity but quickly became a treasured staple. By the 1300s and 1400s, the monks had not only perfected the art of cheese-making but had also secured a lucrative monopoly, exporting Parmigiano-Reggiano throughout Italy and eventually, across Europe.

The Rise to Fame and Imitation

As Parmigiano-Reggiano grew in popularity, its distinctive taste and texture became sought after far beyond the Italian borders. However, with fame came imitation. Enterprising cheese makers across Europe attempted to replicate the monks’ masterful creation, leading to a proliferation of Parmigiano-Reggiano knock-offs.

Recognizing the need to safeguard their culinary treasure, Italy intervened. An official decree granted the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Consortium exclusive rights over the production and sale of this cheese. In 1955, this decree crystallized the identity of authentic Parmesan as Parmigiano-Reggiano, setting the stage for future legal protections.

The Guarded Name of Parmesan

The European Union's involvement further solidified Parmigiano-Reggiano’s status as a protected designation of origin. According to EU law, only cheese produced in specific regions - the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, and select areas in surrounding provinces - could bear the name "Parmesan." This legislation ensured that all Parmesan sold within the EU adhered to traditional production methods and origins.

The implications of this ruling highlight a stark reality for American enthusiasts of Italian cheese. The stringent EU protections do not apply in the United States, allowing any cheese to be marketed as parmesan, regardless of its authenticity. This discrepancy explains the prevalence of grated "parmesan" cheeses in the US, which, though popular, hold no legal rights to the name in Italy. For the discerning palate seeking the authentic experience, only Parmigiano-Reggiano, with its protected designation, will suffice.

Whether you’ve managed to procure a wheel of genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano or simply wish to enhance your cheese experience, our selection of pasta, crackers and flatbreads is curated to transport you to the heart of Italy. Let us guide you through the art of pairing, bringing the legacy of Parmesan, from its monastic origins to your table, full circle. Buon appetito!



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