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"Real" parmesan vs. the green can: A shameful admission [moved from Home Cooking]

Generally I'm on the snobby side when it comes to food. I'm positively *eager* to spend double digits per pound for hunks of parm to grate myself, and to refer to the Kraft stuff as "sawdust."

But I keep trying the real thing and -- at least in the pasta-topping application -- I keep thinking, Is that all there is? I buy it, I grate it, and it ... dissolves into nothingness. I add more, and still I taste little if anything.

Am I alone? Am I lacking a certain gene? Or do the advantages of the real stuff not translate to the pasta-sprinkle realm?

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  1. How much are you adding? I like a good handful of parmesan or pecorino on my pasta. There's a huge difference between the good stuff, real parmigiano reggiano or grana padano, and the green can which I find truly tastelsss.

    1. I buy a pre-grated Parm-Romano blend. The Romano kicks in an assertive flavor which is hard to miss.

      1. It's because you're using parmesan and not peccorino romano (as mentioned above). "Grated cheese" in our world has never ever ever been parmesan but always romano. And a little goes a long way although I keep going until I have cheese with a side of sauce.

        2 Replies
        1. re: missykins

          Sorry but I don't agree. Pecorino romano is sharper but parmigiano reggiano has unique depth. It's nutty with a full complex flavor which romano just doesn't have IMO. I usually steal several slices when I'm grating a block.

          1. re: cheryl_h

            Hmm, I agree with eating it in chunks but grating it over pasta, I think doesn't do too much for either the cheese or the pasta dish. I guess it's a reason to make pasta and try both!!

        2. I am not a huge fan of parmesan on pasta, but shave a bunch of slices and serve it with arugula, good olive oil, and fresh ground pepper... romano would overpower it (as would ricotta salata)

          1. No no no!!! Go to an Italian Supermarket and they will grate you FRESH stuff that looks and acts just like the canned stuff... heck even the tubs at Trader joes are so much better than it!!


            1. I apologize if I'm stating something you already know, but is it possible that you're not buying parmiggiano-reggiano? If you're buying a cheese labeled "parmesan," it's probably not the real thing, since most of what's labeled "parmesan" in your typical grocery store is gross. I would try going to a reputable Italian cheese or deli store, and getting real parmiggiano-reggiano. It can be expensive, but a little goes a long way.

              6 Replies
              1. re: AppleSister

                I wondered about that as well - it has been so long since I've used the green can, that I didn't post b/c I couldn't comment on the comparison. But "real" parm is a wonderful thing - another point is that the type of grater makes a big difference.

                1. re: AppleSister

                  More specifically, there is high and low quality "parmesan" cheese. The best comes from Emilia-Romagna, Italy and is called Parmigiano Reggiano. But there are many other cheeses called "parmesan," including ones produced in Argentina, California, and Wisconsin. Some people like the versions from these other areas, especially since it is considerably cheaper than true Parmigiano Reggiano.

                  My suggestions:

                  1. Try shaving what you buy (rather than grating it) and eat it in a very simple dish. I like shaved fennel and parm topped with good olive oil, salt and pepper. The cheese can have a subtle flavor, which may be masked in a robustly flavored dish.

                  2. Go to a good cheese store and buy a small amount of different kinds of parm, shave them, and do a taste test. Some people are quite happy to save $$$ and buy domestic parm, and there isn't anything wrong with that.

                  1. re: Darren72

                    I've tasted many kinds of parmesan including the Argentine and domestic varieties, resisting the true Italian parmigiano reggiano for years. Then I caught an episode of America's Test Kitchen which claimed that genuine parm.reg. was unparalleled for flavor. So I did exactly what you recommend - I went to my Whole Foods where the cheese counter people know me and had a mini-tasting of various parmesans. True parmigiano reggiano stands out like a sore thumb, with distinctive flavor and texture. I've never gone back. You use so little on any dish, it's worth the extra dollars.

                    1. re: cheryl_h

                      Nice. And I might add, it stores very well.

                      1. re: cheryl_h

                        Can't argue with your taste test, when it comes to eating parmesan plain.

                        But I can add one little tidbit from my knowledgeable-and-oh-so-opinionated cheesemonger here in Minnesota.

                        Talking about how the price of a certain cheese went sky-high after it won a few prestigious awards, the topic turned to parmesan. His advice? "If you're going to serve it on its own, go for the Italian Parmiggiano Reggiano. If you're going to grate it over a dish or melt it into something, the distinctiveness doesn't persist and you are better off saving some money with parmesan from Argentina or the Wisantigo Stravecchio from Wisconsin."

                        This from a guy who doesn't blink when recommending $25.00 worth of "buy a bit of this and see what you think" every blessed Saturday morning.

                        1. re: KTFoley

                          That's pretty much what the America's Test Kitchen taste test concluded. For plain eating, get real Parmiggiano Reggiano. But if you are grating it, you lose some of the taste and texture that makes real parm. special. They said use cheaper parmesan cheese to grate.

                  2. The stuff in the green can is LOADED with salt, that may be why you feel it has more taste. Try adding more salt to your pasta dish, then grate some parmiggiano. Like the poster above says, not parmesean. Also, you may want to try shaving it instead of grating. More flavor that way I think.

                    1. Though some have already touched on this I'll share what I've discovered. Parm-Reg melts fairly easily and WILL dissolve in a pasta dish. In fact I notice that the bottom of my pasta bowl is covered with the melted cheese after I've finished the pasta! And this is authentic Parm-Reg. Pecorino will also disolve but not quite as readily. And as stated it is sharper. I also grew up eating Pecorino as grated cheese. My parents and grandparents knew nothing of Parmesan. I like both (but lean towards Pecorino as a fav) and find that they each should be used according to the type of sauce they're being eaten with. I wouldn't think of using Pecorino in Carbonara Sauce. (Essentially raw eggs, crisp fried pancetta, parsley, fresh ground black pepper and plenty of grated cheese)But for a true simple Marinara, I wouldn't think of using Parm. Also you might try shaving it as previously suggested, or alternatively the old fashioned tin cheese graters have a few different sized grating surfaces. There's one that thickly shreds rather than finely grates. You might try that. Whatever you do I wouldn't go back to the Kraft stuff cause we'll all be forced to throw a "Blanket Party" for ya. Just Kidding. Hope we've all helped.

                      1. I like real parm, grana pad, love romano peccorino. Graduated from the cans at least 30 years ago. We used to grate what we needed for a meal and any leftover got sprinkled on our dog's supper at the time. It got where she expected it nightly. I ended up having to buy the store brand in the shaker jar. If an aquaintance eyed my grocery cart and saw the jar I am enough of a food snob to say "oh that is for the dog, no really"

                        1. I'll just chime in with what others are saying-make sure you're buying the real Parm Reggiano (and from a good vendor-I find that when I buy it pre-wrapped, who knows how long ago, at Trader Joe's it lacks the gritty texture and tang of a store where it is freshly cut); and use a good handful or shave it with a potato peeler.
                          You question-"do I lack a gene" is interesting-Did you see Tony Bourdain's "Decoding Adran Ferrara" on the Travel Channel a couple weeks ago? People DO taste things very differently sometimes-I guess it's possible you taste parm differently than many of us.
                          I also sometimes prefer a good Percorino Romano when I want something sharper. But again, get a good one, from a good vendor-none of this pre-grated stuff.

                          1. Layering flavors might make a difference, or so some experts insist.

                            Bottom: warmed pasta mixing bowl.
                            Level 1: some sauce from the saucepan.
                            Level 2: Not too well-drained almost al dente pasta, hot from the pot.

                            Before Level 2 into Level 1, sprinkle grated cheese atop the pasta and mix that into the pasta first. This will bind the cheese into the almost completely cooked pasta, which, because it is not completely cooked, is still drawing in fluid ingredients (which granular cheese can become with heat), rather than simply losing the cheese into the sauce. Then start mixing in the sauce, adding some salty hot pasta cooking water to finish the cooking of the pasta. This way, the pasta is drawing in bits of all of this. Add more sauce, cheese and water as necessary to glaze the pasta well without puddling once its rested a bit. Serve on warmed plates or bowls.

                            1. I can't imagine what it is you are buying/doing. REAL Parm is an incredible delight! Idealy, it is the real deal from Italy and has not been shrunk-wrapped in plastic. Also, it's very important to grate right before you use it -- not half-an-hour (or more) before. The real Parm, treated respectfully, is the ultimate cheese experience. Grana Padano doesn't come close. Cheese is a living thing and must be treated/stored properly. Or else, sadly, it dies.

                              1. It's Parmigiano Reggiano. The salt thing is no doubt part of it, but mainly I think I've probably just grown fond of that non-melting sawdust texture during my humble upbringing.

                                1. I grew up on the green can, which we at home referred to as "sprinkle cheese." It's funny - we were snobby about the kraft singles, calling them plastic cheese, but in truth the crummy parm was no exception.

                                  I love a good parm at room temperature, broken off in chunks, with a glass of red wine...

                                  1. That stuff in the green cans smells like "bawf" in the terminology of one of my nieces. Last night I used real parmeggiano-reggiano and some gruyere on a home made pizza and we inhaled it.

                                    1. I'm eating pasta as I write this. Mine is topped w/freshly grated Asiago! It's far better

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Kitchen Queen

                                        Terrific! I was reading this whole post wondering "When is someone going to say that Asiago is better than parm on pasta?"

                                        1. re: Kitchen Queen

                                          Aged asiago or young asiago?

                                          By the way, I am sure you aren't implying that those of who can appreciate pecorino or parmesan on our pasta have bad taste. :)

                                          1. re: Darren72

                                            No such thing as bad taste in food choices. Unless it's a peanut butter and pickle relish sammy! What an insult to the P.B. and I don't even like P.B. - Yep, it's a known food item!

                                            So, doesn't matter puppy - Asiago any ole way is the best! FYI - Trader Joes is my religious center! I buy whatever they've got. :) KQ

                                            1. re: Kitchen Queen

                                              "No such thing as bad taste in food choices"

                                              Yea, I was just kidding. Kind of making fun of the line above "It's far better".

                                        2. Don't use those microplanes for grating if you want to see your parm.