Parmesan as we call it in the United States is true cheese royalty.  I always keep it
in my home unless we have run out, which is often.  It is THE grating cheese for
all pasta with very few exceptions and is a wonderful eating cheese and is fabulous
shaved over salads.   Never buy the stuff in the green can (sorry Kraft, I'll buy some
more Velveeta), just add salt it will taste about the same.  Also do not buy it already
grated, it is domestic and totally lacks the character of true Parmigiano Reggiano. 
There are other "grana" cheeses and those are  also fabulous.

True Parmigiano Reggiano is only made in Italy and in only a small area at that.   
It is at least 2 years old before it can be sold and only first quality cheese is exported. 
It has that wonderful "snap" that only great PR really has.  If you have not tried this
exceptional cheese you must. It is widely available. 

Also available recently is Parmigiano Reggiano Vacche Rosse,
made strictly from Reggiana cows that have a beautiful red coat, hence the
name which means red cow in Italian.  These cows have not been used as
much until recently when the breed has been being restored.  The milk has
more fat and protein than other breeds of cow. This cheese is aged for 30
months rather than the usual 24 and is a richer product. Very little of this
cheese is made and only a teeny bit gets to the US.
If you have a cheese or food snob friend to cook for or entertain, this is a great one. 
Almost nobody knows about this cheese.  If you try this cheese be ready to be
spoiled for normal cheeses.  It is also nice served in chunks with aged balsamic

Another brand new Parmigiano Reggiano is Kosher. This product is Kosher for
Passover as well. It was controlled since the beginning of the milking till the end of
the production. This Kosher Parmigiano is made in Italy under the supervision of the
Beth-Din from Milano.

There are two other very similar Italian grating cheeses that you might want to try,
you can really sound like a cheese snob if you say you prefer Grana Padano
Stravecchio Oro Del Tempo or Piave Vecchia rather than Parmigiano.  I have heard
many foodies complain that Grana Padano cannot hold a candle to it's cousin
Parmigiano Reggiano, but this is incorrect. They are probably purchasing their
Grana Padano at the wrong place and getting a young cheese.  The aged version,
Stravecchio Oro Del Tempo, is an outstanding grating cheese with lots of nuance
and the familiar crunch of the crystals. Aged Grana Padano can be purchased here.
and you will not be sorry you tried this wonderful cheese.  You can actually get
a sampler with a half a pound of each and test it yourself. 
For a real treat, try Piave Vecchia, it must have the Vecchia behind it, which means
aged or it is just a bland cheese of no real character.  Once it is aged, I believe it
can hold it's own with any grana style cheese around.  I have actually come to prefer
it to the other two mentioned above.  It has a richer, buttery taste that is hard to describe. 
I now keep mostly Piave Vecchia at home as a grating cheese, but tend to eat it before
the spaghetti is ready!  You can find this also at igourmet, but you have to look
around a little.  I know they have it, so just enter it in the search box. 

If your grating cheese gets really hard to grate, try soaking it in buttermilk, or just
throw the whole thing in a pot of minestrone and pull out the rind when it is
finished.  Thanks to Brock, one of our readers for the buttermilk tip.


Parmesan Crisps  This is one of the best ways to experience Parmigiano Reggiano. 
There are 2 crisping methods plus recipes for Italian Oreos and Italian tacos. 
These are fun and are a first for most people. You can use any of the Italian
grating cheeses to make these recipes.

Feeling even more adventuresome?  There are many interesting grating cheeses made
all over the world, although the best are definitely Italian.  All mentioned can be
purchased at igourmet or if you are lucky at a local cheese shop.  Even the best
grocery stores do not carry a superior product and they are usually more expensive
than a cheese shop or iGourmet.

Cacio di Fossa is an unusual cheese with a unique history.  Hailed as the "Millennium Cheese of Italy," Cacio di Fossa literally means "cheese of the pit." During the wars between Charles VIII of France and Ferdinand of Naples the inhabitants of Sogliano al Rubicone would hide their cheese in underground fossas. This tradition carries on according to a special and somewhat complicated ritual.
In mid-August, before each cheese is tied in a burlap sack and placed in fossas dug in the porous ground (tufo), they are disinfected with fire and lined with hay. The fossas are flask shaped, about 3 meters deep and 2 meters wide. Each sack is marked with the owners’ name and stacked in layers on planks of wood and separated by sand. They are packed close together so no air can get in. The fossa is then hermetically sealed. Over the months they have undergone a total re-fermentation losing practically all the whey. On November 16th this revered cheese is “harvested” during the holiday of Santa Caterina. The cheese is pulled from the ground, cleaned, wrapped in it’s characteristic rustic brown paper, secured with a string and sold during the festivities by some, while others jealously cling to their formaggio.
Fossa has an intense and somewhat piquant flavor that makes it excellent as a table cheese with fresh fruit and honey, or grated over pasta or risotto. Since the cheese is only pulled out of the ground in November, you have to watch carefully for this to be available. 

Myzithra is one of the most popular cheeses to hail from Greece.  Not widely available, yet sought after, this cheese turns regular pasta into a meal for Greek Gods.  The cheese is stark white and fairly salty.  The best way to enjoy this cheese, which even I don't eat out of hand,
is to brown some butter in a skillet, then toss the hot butter with hot spaghetti and then pour a lot of grated Myzithra on top and toss it.  As simple as this dish is, it is a treat that people will ask for over and over.  Keep some on hand and you can have a perfect dinner in just a snap.

Pecorino Romano is a sharp tasting grating cheese made in the area around Rome out of sheep milk.  If you haven't tried cheese made from milk other than cow milk, sheep milk is a good place to start as it is not as "different" as goat cheeses usually are.  A little genuine Pecorino Romano goes a long way, it will be very strong and salty.  If you don't purchase this from either a cheese shop or iGourmet, look for cheeses made in Lazio, Italy.
This is the original area that this ancient cheese was made and the best still comes from
there.  To repeat the first paragraph-do not buy this pre-grated. 

For the truly adventurous there is
Sap Sago.  A little conical green cheese, it is made in
Switzerland only for grating.  The light green color comes from clover, which gives the cheese it's unusual flavoring.  Best grated on broccoli, cauliflower and potatoes, just set the cheese on the table with a small hand grater. 

This hard, grainy cheese is one of the world's oldest, dating back to 23 A.D. Made high in the Alps in Switzerland's central region, Sbrinz is often compared to Parmigiano Reggiano. Like Reggiano, Sbrinz comes in massive 80 pound wheels and is made from unpasteurized cow's milk. Aged for at least 18 months, this cheese is hard enough to grate. The Swiss enjoy it shaved in paper-thin slices and served as an appetizer with air-dried beef and tomatoes.

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