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Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmigiano: what’s the difference?

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The cheese is lactose-free and low in sodium, says a spokesperson for the Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium.

According to a new survey, nearly 60% of Canadians preferred cheese over comfort food classics like bread, pasta, pizza and burgers when asked which foods they couldn’t live without.

The Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium reports that Canadian imports of the 900-year-old Italian cheese are up 6.8% over the same period in 2021.

“About 14,000 tons in the US and maybe 4,000 in Canada. But if you compare that figure to population, you (Canadians) consume more than double your American cousins,” says Marcello Turini, the consortium’s international marketing coordinator.

Turini believes that the passion Canadians have for Parmigiano-Reggiano is due to the diversity of the country.

“It’s a great passion that was probably also transmitted by Italian emigrants, therefore the first Italian community. Even in terms of consumption, I think something has changed. European roots help the consumption of cheese in general. But today, the community Asian or North African absolutely use cheese in their cooking and sometimes even experiment with a kind of fusion cuisine,” she says.

History of Parmigiano Reggiano

Parmigiano-Reggiano began with Benedictine and Cistercian monks around AD 1000, when they sought to increase the shelf life of their cow’s milk supply.

“They started producing this specific cheese, a very particular cheese; hard and large wheels, which is produced with a specific grain inside, and casein, which is structurally very, very hard, and can be aged for a long time [time]”, explains Turini.

Nowadays, the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano is unchanged since the Middle Ages. Parmigiano-Reggiano, in fact, is produced exclusively in five Italian provinces: Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna on the left of the Reno river and Mantua, on the right of the Po river.

“We still continue to produce (the cheese) without any type of additive. Only milk, salt and rennet,” says Turini. “You have to be very careful with your milk production to not have any kind of bacterial contamination, to avoid problems that you’ll normally discover after 24 months or two years. So this is a tricky thing.”

The consortium is “a kind of police force for Parmigiano-Reggiano”, says Turini. It is a protected body made up of all Parmigiano-Reggiano producers who must comply with regulations that safeguard the unique characteristics of the cheese.

Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano

In 1964 the Consortium adopted the dotted lettering on the wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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“All the producers are under consortium control, protected. And obviously, at the same time, promoted,” says Turini.

There is, in fact, a difference between Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Where the latter is heavily regulated by the consortium to uphold the quality and uniqueness of the product, the former is not. This means that unlike authentic Italian cheese, Parmesan contains preservatives and additives and includes a longer list of ingredients.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is lactose-free, lower in sodium, and healthier than its inauthentic counterparts.

“Everyone who is lactose intolerant can eat (cheese) without any problem,” says Turini.

He also adds that there is a lot of confusion about the difference between the two cheeses, especially in the United States.

In Canada, however, Turini says that there is more transparency in grocery stores.

“You (Canadians) are in luck because many supermarket chains are clear on this. So they work well, in terms of labeling, product display and explanation… Even the crust is full of dots.”

The rules on the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano by the consortium are intended to protect the Italian product from counterfeiting. While the fake Parmigiano-Reggiano may pose a threat to the cheese’s economic success, Turini says the cultural impact is also important.

“Consumers are misled in a certain way. They walk out of a store that has both Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan, and they absolutely should have the authentic one and it really isn’t,” he says.

“We prefer to be very clear and transparent and say, ‘Why don’t you name your product American Parmesan?’ Thus the consumer can choose without being misled”.

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