Contrary to popular belief, Italian Parmesan is a category of cheese – not a single variety! While Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and Grana Padano may seem similar, each one has its own unique profile. If you want to use your cheeses in the best possible way, it’s important to get to know them.
Chef Brown is here to share some advice on how to showcase these three types of Parmesan cheese on a menu.
Parmigiano Reggiano (the “King of Parmesan”): flaky, grainy, flavourful
Meet the cheese: This variety is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk in the Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Mantova regions of Italy. It’s grainy and flaky with around 30% milk fat, and produces crunchy calcium spots during the aging process. Saputo Parmigiano Reggiano is aged for 24 months, following a tradition that is more than 800 years old.
Why we love it: Parmigiano Reggiano is a natural umami carrier that boosts the flavour of everything it touches! It delivers a rich, fruity taste with a hint of hazelnut.
How to use it: Treat this cheese as you would a premium seasoning like truffles or fine olive oil.
Pairings with other cheeses: Balance it out with subtler cheese varieties like Ricotta, or mascarpone for fillings. On pizzas that use mild, stretchy cheeses like Pizza Mozzarella or Caciocavallo, add Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for a flavour boost!
Pairings with food: This cheese is wonderful at bringing out the “meatiness” of iron-rich proteins like lamb and beef. You can enhance more subtly flavoured meats like chicken and pork with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and double down on umami flavours like tomatoes and anchovy when used on a pizza.
Unexpected way of using it: As an ice cream topping! Roll vanilla bean ice cream balls in a crust of crushed almonds, dried cherry slivers, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for a sweet-salty-crunchy flavour bomb!
Pecorino Romano: salty, sharp, crumbly
Why we love it: Pecorino Romano cheese offers a delightful balance of salty, sharp, and bitter. This variety is slightly granular when it melts, which allows its flavour to come through in hot dishes.
How to use it: Add it to a recipe in the last few minutes of cooking so its flavour remains pronounced. When preparing a pizza, sparsely crumble Pecorino Romano cheese on top so that it stands out with every bite.
Pairings with other cheeses: While Pecorino Romano cheese is a star on its own, its texture plays well with subtler, smoother cheeses. It can also complement the sharpness of cheeses like Gorgonzola.
Pairings with food: Pecorino Romano cheese loves sweet ingredients like dried fruits and honey, as well as rich slow-cooked tomato sauces and meat-based gravies. You can also combine this cheese with fresh, herb-based sauces like basil pesto, chimichurri, and salsa verde.
Unexpected way of using it: This cheese is great for livening up a cold vegetable dish, like a beet and arugula salad. Make sure to grate it finely so it incorporates well into every bite.
Grana Padano: milky, tangy, grainy
Meet the cheese: Hailing from Italy’s Po River Valley region, Grana Padano cheese is a crumbly, grainy variety made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. Its fat content hovers around 40%, and its aging process takes between 9 and 20 months.
Why we love it: This cheese is mild and milky with a subtle tangy finish. Grana Padano cheese is granular when melted, giving it a lighter feel than the other two varieties.
How to use it: Grana Padano cheese is a wonderful finisher for dishes with stronger flavours as a texturizing or seasoning agent. It’s a great option for when you need more volume, such as in a gratiné dish, in mashed potatoes, or on a spicy pizza with pepperoni.
Pairings with other cheeses: This variety is at its best when paired with subtle cheeses, allowing its sharpness to compliment or highlight other flavours. Try it in a Ricotta filling.
Pairings with food: Grana Padano cheese goes well with wild mushrooms, seafood, sweet fruits, and grains like barley and quinoa. Use it to add zing to subtly flavoured meats like chicken or pork. On a pizza or cheese platter, pair it with mortadella, salami, or cooked ham.
Unexpected way of using it: Try shaving Grana Padano cheese on a raw, meaty fish like tuna: its acidity adds wonderful depth to tuna’s rich profile, and offers a unique textual contrast against its buttery mouthfeel.
Knowing how to use each one of these cheeses will help you create refined, balanced, and exciting menu options your customers will love!
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