For the record, Parmesan Cheese is not necessarily the same thing as Parmigiano Reggiano. Yes, that may be a little confusing, but let me see if I can clear things up.
A good Parmigiano Reggiano has its roots in what the cow (who supplies the raw milk for the cheese) eats. The better their diet, the better the cheese. Alfalfa and hay are good; grass, herbs and blossoms are better.
Parmigiano Reggiano (which happens to be one of my favorite cheeses) is then made the following way:
The evening milking (from cows fed exclusively on grass and hay) is left overnight and the next day the cream is skimmed off to make mascarpone. The milk is then mixed with the morning’s milking in huge copper cauldrons and the rennet is added.
The cheeses are floated in brine baths for approximately 21 days to protect the rind over the long ageing process. This takes place at a controlled temperature of 22C and for the first 6-7 months the cheeses are turned every 4-5 days. For the following 6-7 months they are turned every 10-12 days. After this it is up to the producer how much longer they mature the cheese.
To be officially considered Parmigiano-Reggian by the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Consorzio, it needs to be aged at least 1 year, but often the cheeses will be aged 2 years or more.
For those of you who were wondering, it’s the brining that gives the Parmigiano Reggiano it’s distinct “salty” taste. The better cheeses will have a bit of a “crunch” caused tiny crystals of salt when you bite into the meat of the cheese. A good Parmigiano Reggiano will also crumble when you bite into it, as opposed to the soft texture of an Emmental cheese.
Now, how can Kraft (and other nefarious producers of sawdust) get away with calling their stuff Parmesan cheese? Consider this – The Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Consorzio is a controlling governmental entity which gets to say what cheeses are “Parmigiano-Reggiano”, and not “Parmesan”. To be considered “Parmigiano-Reggiano” one must meet stringent requirements. Also, one must have a production area for the “Parmigiano-Reggiano” cheese in one of the territories of the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna (on the left bank of the river Reno) and Mantua (on the right bank of the river Po). Obviously this makes for a very limited production of true “Parmigiano-Reggiano”.
“Parmesan” (The English derivative of “Parmigiano”), has no such controlling body. As such, one can mass produce a soft white salty cheese of questionable quality, made of pasteurized milk from cows who more than likely come from corporate dairy farms, grate it into sawdust, foist it upon the American public and hope that no one notices that “Parmesan” cheese is nothing at all like “Parmigiano-Reggiano”.
Which, oddly enough, is exactly what Kraft has done. Not that I’m biased or anything. *cough, cough*
While I’m not here to suggest that the cheeses in the plastic green containers are bad…okay, that’s BS, I’m very much here to suggest that the plastic green cheese containers are bad…I should acknowledge that many people here in the States equate this corporate cheese with Italian food. I’m here to tell you that this is a bunch of hooey. As I illustrated up above, there is a vast difference between the two types of cheeses, and if you wish to be a true lover of Italian cuisine, you at least need to acknowledge that difference. What the green plastic corporate cheese represents traditionally is America’s interpretation of Italian cuisine, which is not the same thing as representing Italian cuisine.
But in the end? For me, it’s just another reason to be annoyed at Kraft.