Saturday, September 10, 2016

Parmesan, the Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano is an Important Ingredient in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

A whole 39 Kilo Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Marked so that each wedge cut from the wheel may be identified.

Parmesan cheese;
Genuine Paremsan is the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard cheese, dry and easily grated; it is made from slightly skimmed pasteurized cow's milk. The cheese has a light yellow pâte and its rind while edible is best left for the birds.  The cheese has 25% fat and a unique grainy and flaky texture. Its flavor is distinctive but accommodating so that it stands ahead of French cheeses as a flavor component in French cuisine. If you are visiting Italy and want to take a whole Parmesan cheese home you may experience some difficulty with the airline's checked baggage rules; an entire wheel of Parmesan weighs approximately 39 kilos (86 lbs).
Parmesan in French cuisine 
Parmesan is essential in French cuisine and used for much more than pasta. Many French dishes use Parmesan for a grilled topping, making a sauce, or as part of the main recipe.
Wedges cut from a 15 month-old Parmigiano-Reggiano. Photograph courtesy of Pascal Cardonna
Within the European Union, (28 members, the number as I write this) this is the only the cheese that may use the name Parmesan. Parmigiano Reggiano is produced in specific areas of Reggio Emilia, Modena, Parma, Bologna and Mantova, Italy. 
French Parmesan cheese. 
The French produce some excellent Parmesan type cheeses themselves, but they cannot sell them as Parmesan. Most French restaurants use the genuine Parmigiano Reggiano though you will rarely know that from the menu, usually only the word Parmesan is noted. Despite possible legal problems, quite a number of restaurants choose a good local imitation.  You will probably not suffer from either the taste, aroma or the texture of the French version. Nevertheless, those that do suffer when imitation Parmesan is used are the Italian dairies and their bank managers.
Italy itself has some cheeses very similar to Parmigiano Reggiano; try that excellent cheese called the Grana Padano, it is different but, it is similar.  However, Grana Padano will never be sold as Parmesan and it will not pass as Parmesan. It is a very good but different cheese.

Grana Padano

Taking Italian Parmesan home.

To take Parmesan Reggiano home, whether you buy it in Italy or France, buy a one-kilo wedge and have the shop cut it into smaller wedges for you as the cheese is not always easily cut at home. Have each wedge plastic wrapped, and then all vacuum packed for travel. Parmesan will survive a two or three-day trip home in your suitcase unless you are in the tropics. When you arrive home keep the plastic wrap on and Parmesan will keep well in a refrigerator for months. Nearly all good cheese stores in France and Italy offer vacuum packaging for travel but check before you buy.  N.B. A cheese shop is a Formaggeria in Italian and Fromagerie in French.

Mixed salad with grated Parmesan.
Keeping the cheese wrapped in plastic wrap will prevent the cheese from absorbing tastes from other elements in the fridge.  One of the very few cheeses that you may store in a freezer is an old Parmesan, carefully wrapped in plastic wrap.  Old Parmesan has little water and will not suffer too much. However, you may suffer; old Parmesan is quite a bit more expensive than the regular one-year-old Parmesan Reggiano. For more about buying cheese in France and taking it home click here.
Parmesan Cheese on the French Menus:
Salade Sucrine, Poulet Grillé, Œuf Mollet, Parmesan – This will make an excellent salad lunch. Sucrine is a baby Romaine lettuce, crisp and sweet; it is sold as the “Little Gem” in North America. The centerpiece of this salad is grilled chicken, here it will be served cold, or possibly warm. All are accompanied by an œuf mollet, a shelled soft-boiled egg.  

Pappardelle with Perigord truffles.
Pappardelle is a  pasta noodle that looks like a wider and thicker
 version of fettuccine.
Carpaccio de Bœuf  Vieux Parmigiano Reggiano Affiné 24 Mois   - 
Beef Carpaccio served with a 24-month-old Parmigiano Reggiano. Apart from the sauce, there are only three ingredients in the traditional Carpaccio de Bœuf.  The first is the beef, the second the Parmigiano Reggiano and the third the sauce.  In this listing, the Parmigiano Reggiano is two-years-old, a Parmigiano Reggiano Vecchio. N.B. This menu listing reads like the original Carpaccio.  
Aubergine Confit, Ratatouille de Légumes, Gratinée au Parmesan Poulet Fermer de Licques, Tomates, Croûtons, Copeaux De Parmesan, Sauce Tiède Au Parmesan. The is the Label Rouge, red label, chicken from Licques in the northwest of France in the department of Pas-de-Calais. The chicken is served after being browned with Parmesan under the grill.  It is accompanied by Ratatouille and an aubergine confit, in the USA eggplant.  An aubergine confit is practically an aubergine jam. The dish is completed with tomatoes, croutons, shavings of Parmesan, and a warm Parmesan sauce.

The Label Rouge, red label, chickens from Licques
The chicken from Licques in this menu listing comes from a historic strain recognized for their superb taste. They are expensive chickens as they grow slowly, but they are considered worth it. Red Lable chickens actually taste like something. Additionally, all Label Rouge, red label, chickens are raised free of antibiotics, growth hormones and are fed a 100% vegetarian diet and, of course, whatever they find outside.  Their daytime lives are spent 90% free range, though at night they are returned to the safety of their chicken coups.
A whole Parmesan cheese wheel
turned into a bowl for grated Parmesan.
You may also see hollowed-out Parmesan wheels turned into salad bowls.
Tartare d'Artichauts et Légumes Croquants au Parmesan – A Tartar of artichokes served with crunchy fresh vegetables, chosen for their taste and colors,  accompanied by Parmesan cheese.
Risotto d'Huîtres de Bouzigues et Fenouil, Émulsion de Crème au Parmesan – A risotto made with the Bouzigue oysters from the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean. In this menu listing the risotto is flavored with fennel and served with a thick cream of Parmesan Sauce.
Parmesan in an Italian or French Cheese store.
In a good cheese shop in Italy or France, you may see that a single Parmesan cheese is not kept inside a cooled counter.  A whole Parmesan cools slowly and in an air-conditioned store with a large clientele, it will not suffer. Taking a whole Parmesan cheese from the cooler for every customer and returning it immediately would require a trained weightlifter. Whole Parmesan cheeses will be removed from the cooler in the morning and returned at night. That is acceptable for a 39-kilo cheese, but it is not acceptable for small wedges.  
Fake Parmesan. Not the real Parmigiano Reggiano,
Outside of Italy and the European Union, many kinds of cheese call themselves Parmesan.  Some of these cheese are really terrible, just tasteless plastic; many come pre-grated in bottles and tins and lose any flavor they had very quickly.  Luckily most of these low-quality imitations do not look or smell like genuine Parmesan and can be refused with a sniff. That being said France has some excellent unbranded Parmesan like cheeses.
How can you learn to appreciate Parmesan cheese?

If you speak Italian or have a friend, who knows Italian well get his or her help and take the three short online video courses given by the Parmigiano Reggiano Academy  It is a short online course in tasting and appreciating Parmigiano Reggiano divided into three steps. Each step consists of a video tutorial and a quiz to test your knowledge and qualify you as the owner of a refined palate. Of course, you also need some genuine Parmesan to take the course. With a trained sensory analysis of Parmigiano Reggiano, you will discover the complex world of aromas and tastes that characterize this very special cheese.
Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano
This consortium controls the regulations for genuine Parmesan.
How do the Italians test the cheeses that are produced?
To be legally approved at least one cheese in each lot must be tested, but since there are producers with colossal outputs,  that means not less than one cheese in one thousand must be examined by an expert.

The test begins with an evaluation of the external appearance and aroma. Then using a hammer and a needle the tester may evaluate the cheese for the sound that would indicate internal cracks and vacuous spaces.

Finally, there is an organoleptic test from cheese that has been cut open. That is a tasting and smelling test and it is the most important part.
Every cheese must show the date that it passed inspection.

The cheeses that are tested are marked
with indelible ink in three categories.

a)  The first category indicates the wheels classified as  First Grade Parmigiano Reggiano. They are marked “scelto sperlato", "zero" and "uno".

b)  The second category indicates the wheels classified as Parmigiano Reggiano cheese mezzano “medium grade.”

c) The third category shows the wheels that fall below the accepted standard, and they will be marked  "scarto" and "scartone."
The cheeses of the first and second category are embossed with the words "Parmigiano-Reggiano" and the year of manufacture.

The second category cheese is identified using an indelible mark applied around the wheel.

Aging Parmigiano-Reggiano
Aging Parmigiano Reggiano Cheeses

Parmigiano ReggianoThe youngest cheese is at least one-year-old. It is called, but not labeled, a Giovane.  This is the youngest Parmesan that may be sold.

Parmigiano Reggiano Vecchio  – A Parmesan matured for between eighteen months to two years.

Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio – A Parmesan matured for between two to three years, a very mature cheese.
Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchione - A Parmesan matured for over three years; this is the grandfather of all the Parmigiano cheeses. When you buy  Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchione you will pay heavily for the pleasure that it brings.

You may also buy half a Parmigiano Reggiano
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010,2016.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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