A few weeks ago, Whole Foods Market organized a private event, “Parmigiano Reggiano, The King of Cheese,” in which we nibbled on Italian hors d’oeuvres, antipasti and wines. The featured chef was Massimo Bottura of the award-winning Osteria Francescana restaurant in Modena, Italy. His restaurant is listed in the top five of The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards since 2010.
In addition, Cathy Strange, Whole Foods Market’s Global Cheese Buyer, was present to share her knowledge about Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. She travels around the world for the latest food trends in cheese as she works with small artisan producers. Afterwards, I requested an e-interview for her to to talk about the King of Cheese.
What was the inspiration for working with cheese?
My mother loved New York cheddar and always used it to make mac and cheese—I loved the cheese especially. I had an opportunity when I moved to Durham to work with a couple of friends in the restaurant industry where my knowledge of food and cheese evolved and I became inspired about cheeses and wines that led me to my role at Whole Foods Market.
What are the health benefits of Parmigiano-Reggiano’s aging process?
Cheese is a natural product that is made of up living cultures. It includes proteins that assist with your body healing, it is rich in calcium for bone growth, it has vitamin A, there is no lactose in Parmigiano-Reggiano as the majority drains out with the whey (lactose is a sugar in milk)—the small percent that is left behind evolves to lactic acid, and finally the cheese has natural probiotic characteristics as it is alive. Also, it is easy to digest.
What is the information printed on Parmigiano-Reggiano’s rind?
The characteristic pin dots that spell out Parmigiano Reggiano let you know it is a PDO (Protected Designation or Origin) cheese produced following the standards set by the Consorizo Tutela. This standard defines the cow, the location, the feed, the production process, the maturation and all of the details on how this “King” of cheeses has to be produced to be recognized as DOP or Denomination of Origin. What is missing from the picture is the month of production, which is further detailed on the cheese. There is also a burned EXPORT stamp for wheels aged 24 months and that is the age that Whole Foods Market selects. A brochure with more information on the cheese is found here.
How long does Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese age before Whole Foods purchases it?
Whole Foods Market selects cheese aged 24 months for our stores. And, why does Whole Food’s wait longer than other retail stores? We feel the flavors of the cheese are beginning to shine through and display the unique qualities and complexity of flavor.
What is one fact about Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that the average person doesn’t know?
The cheese has been to the moon!
What’s your favorite Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese recipe?
I love Parmigiano Reggiano on its own as a table cheese or on a cheese plate. In a recipe, it would have to be a traditional risotto or shaved on top of fresh pasta with fresh truffles.