cow's milk

3 Myths About Parmesan

Cravero Parmigiano-Reggiano Raise your hand if trying to understand the Parmesan vs. Parmigiano-Reggiano debate hurts your brain. Which one is better? Are they the same? Does it matter at all?

It does matter, if you want it to. There's that old saying, You are what you eat. If that's the sort of daily mantra you like to repeat to yourself, and if munching on the most delicious food is your thing, than you're going to want to know how and why parmesan is quite different from Parmigiano-Reggiano. Let's discuss a few myths:

1. The word parmesan means Parmigiano-Reggiano This is true! Parmesan is the English translation of Italy's Parmigiano-Reggiano. However, this doesn't mean that products designated parmesan are made in the same way or of the same quality. The United States has a stinky little history of not following international laws for naming. Much like Champagne and Kobe Beef, Parmigiano-Reggiano must be made to very specific specifications, and under specific circumstances, before it can be christened with that name. Very simply, the rules are: Parmigiano must be made with only three ingredients. Those ingredients are milk made in the Parma/Reggio region of Italy, salt, and animal rennet. It seems so simple, but check the back of the next bag of grated parmesan you buy. If it contains cellulose powder, potassium sorbate, or other ingredients like that, then it's an imposter. No Parmigiano for you.

2. All versions of Parmigiano-Reggiano (real or otherwise) tend to be dry and best for cooking Completely false. If you're seeking out true Parmigiano, you'll find that it's actually wonderful eaten on its own. Cravero Parmigiano-Reggiano (the one we sell at our shops) is particularly succulent, with sweet notes of caramel and cherry. Giorgio Cravero--the man who selects and ages each wheel at Cravero in Bra, Italy--prefers his Parmigiano to have intentional sweetness and moisture. Thank goodness! Because it's lovely and worthy of a spot on your cheese board. Skip the round green shaker of grainy parmesan in favor of a Parmigiano you can actually taste.

3. All versions of Parmigiano-Reggiano are fatty and bad for you, just like most cheeses Oh no. No no no. So long as you avoid the bastardized versions of this cheese that contain anything other than milk, salt, and rennet, you're consuming something good for you. The concentration of pure milk in Parmigiano's paste means it's full of protein, calcium, and phosphorous and is free of additives and preservatives. True Parmigiano is so uniquely nutritious that it's been known to be a staple with astronauts on space missions. So take that on your next portage to the boundary waters, hipsters!

[images via Cravero]

The Year of the Sheep

Year of the Sheep “People born in the Year of Sheep are tender, polite, filial, clever, and kind-hearted. They have special sensitivity to art and beauty and a special fondness for quiet living.” —The Internet

Sometimes we like to wax philosophical behind our cheese counter. We spend our entire days surrounded by fermented milk. That’s kind of an odd sort of thing to do, no? But it’s a wonderful exercise to stop, think, and imagine where our fermented milk originates. And what better time to take stock than during Lunar New Year?

This Thursday is Lunar New Year and it so happens that 2015 is the year of the Sheep (we think). We love sheep’s milk cheeses at our cheese counter. I mean really love them. Several of our bestselling cheeses are made from sheep’s milk, quite the feat considering that the vast majority of our cheeses are cow’s milk and we might only have 3 or 4 sheep’s milk cheeses at any given moment.

Why so few sheep cheeses? The biggest reason is that sheep just don’t produce a lot of milk. A sheep produces milk seasonally—for about half the year (and not a lot of it while it is milking), whereas cows produce milk for up to 300 days of the year. That means a sheep cheese producer must produce all of their cheese for the year in just a few months.

French Manech Sheep

The most popular sheep cheese at our counter (and a staff favorite) is Abbaye de Belloc. It is a gorgeous cheese with a textured, dusty rind. Crack it open and you reveal a silky bone white paste. This is a monk’s cheese—meaning the recipe was developed by monks at an abbey in the Pyrenees mountains of France.  Abbaye de Belloc doesn’t hit your tongue with an immediate punch of salt or sweet, rather its richness builds and it releases subtle caramel and faintly grassy flavors. The texture is just killer. Not too dry, not at all waxy, just dense and perfectly chewy.

Monks and sheep, apparently, both have a special fondness for quiet living. The beginning of Lunar New Year is, however, a great time for celebration. We are more likely to think of fireworks or lion dances than we are to imagine meditative contemplation. One fortune prediction for the year of the Sheep 2015 is that it is a year to be tolerant of family. So perhaps a wedge of Abbaye de Belloc, a nice bottle of something from the Southern Rhone, and a trip to your cantankerous Uncle’s house are in order.

Happy Lunar New Year!

[purchase Abbaye de belloc] [original illustration by Nate Braun / sheep image via]