Parmesan cheese… a reliable pasta topper and a culinary classic. But it’s more than just a cheese, it’s an artefact that has survived the test of time.

Parmigiano or Parmesan as it’s known in the UK, is one of the most well-recognised cheeses on the planet and for good reason. It’s history begins in 1200AD when the first sale of Parmigiano Reggiano was recorded.

It is thought that the long lasting cheese was invented by Benedictine and Cistercian monks. They desired a cheese that could be preserved for extended periods of time and that is exactly what they created. 

The legendary cheese can only be produced in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and only three ingredients are used: milk, salt and rennet. 

By the 16th century dairies were considered an economic reference point. Sales began to grow in other regions such as Milan. Here the product became more accessible to outsiders and soon Parmesan was sold around Europe in the likes of Spain, France and Germany. 

The ageing process is lengthy and has to last for a minimum of 12 months. Some varieties can be aged for even longer. 

During the second World War, between 1943-45 cheese production slowed down dramatically and any parmesan that was produced would often be taken by German troops. There are rumours that Italian’s would hide their cheese wheels in caves and other inventive hidey holes! 

In 1954 the historic production process was safeguarded under law and any replications that do not follow these guidelines cannot call their product ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ or ‘Parmesan’ (in the EU).

That doesn’t stop some people from breaking the law! With success often comes jealousy, in the form of counterfeit parmesan. These stinking fakes supposedly generate $2 billion dollars in sales per year. Absolutely blasphemous!

So, how can you tell the difference between the stinking fakes and the real deal cheese wheel? Experts from Silvano Romani say there are ways to distinguish them: 

  • The Branded Crust – Every wheel of parmesan cheese is branded with the words ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ along the rind
  • Ingredients list – Only three ingredients should be listed on the back (Milk, Salt and Rennet). If anything else is present like preservatives or other ingredients, it is not real
  • Taste – It should be very savoury with an intense pungent smell 

Today, Parmigiano has hardly changed, it is still made naturally without any additives for preservation. This honouring of tradition is something unique in a modern world where products are dominated by preservatives and chemicals with really long names. This however, is quite literally the definition of a timeless, culinary classic.