Parmigiano-Reggiano, often called Parmesan cheese, is a hard, dry cheese made from skimmed or partially skimmed cow's milk. It has a hard pale-golden rind and a straw-colored interior with a rich, sharp flavor. There are Parmesan cheeses made in Argentina, Australia and the United States, but none compares with Italy's preeminent Parmigiano-Reggiano, with its granular texture that melts in the mouth. Whereas most U.S. renditions are typically aged a minimum of 10 months, Parmigiano-Reggianos are more often aged at least two years. Those labeled stravecchio have been aged three years, while stravecchiones are four or more years old. Their complex flavor and extremely granular texture are a result of the long aging. The words Parmigiano-Reggiano stenciled on the rind mean that the cheese was produced in the areas of Bologna, Mantua, Modena or Parma (from which the name of this cheese originated). The name Parmigiano is used in parts of Italy for grana cheeses that don't meet protected designation of origin requirements for Parmigiano-Reggiano, such as specific areas of production, what the cattle eat, lengthy aging and so on. Parmesan cheeses in other countries have comparatively lax regulations. Parmesans are primarily used for grating and in Italy are termed grana, meaning "grain," referring to their granular textures. Pregrated Parmesan is available but in no way compares with the freshly grated cheese — save your money. Both domestic and imported Parmesans are available in specialty cheese stores, Italian markets and many supermarkets.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.