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Mar 23, 2007 11:20 AM

Parmigiano Reggiano v. Pecorino Romano

Parmigiano Reggiano seems to be the cheese of choice for grating over pasta, salads, etc. I much prefer the tanginess of Pecorino Romano instead, especially over pasta. Parmigiano has kind of a nutty flavor that I enjoy, but seems to get lost on my palate. I find Romano's flavor and aroma stronger and more pungent allowing me to savor it throughout most of my meal.

What are the general rules of cooking/grating for both? Are there general rules at all besides just choosing which cheese you prefer? In other words, how are these cheeses usually paired with foods? I'm looking for information similar to that of how wines compliment certain foods.

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  1. I can't help you with food/cheese pairings.
    One of my few rules in the kitchen is, "You're the one eating it. It's up to you."


    10 Replies
    1. re: Davwud

      Davwud, I pretty much have that down. It's just that usually at restaurants, when offered fresh cheese for grating, it's parmigiano rather than romano. Was just wondering why?

      1. re: sandrina

        Probably simply because parmigiano appeals to more people than romano does. For a lot of people, the aroma of romano is a bit too close to the odor of vomit.

        1. re: Chimayo Joe

          Agreed. It is a stinky, overpowering flavor for some, and that is why it is often used in sauces rather than just grated -- to take advantage of that strong flavor as it holds up better to tomato sauces and other strong flavors. I prefer Parmigiano myself. There is a another cheese out there you might try that is somewhat between the two -- it is called Sardo and it is imported from Argentina.

          1. re: RGC1982

            Sardo is from Sardinia - a hard pecorino (pecora = sheep) cheese imitated by cheesemakers in Argentina, like "Parmigiana Reggianito", which is the much cheaper Argentinean version of Reggiano that too many restaurants serve...

            1. re: pankofish

              I had a creamy sheep's milk pecorino from Sardinia that just knocked my socks off. One of the best things I had ever eaten.

          2. re: Chimayo Joe

            Chimayo Joe, re odor of vomit..... +1! Didn't realize others had the same reaction.

            1. re: msmarm

              It's the butyric acid found in both.

            2. re: sandrina

              Given the choice, I always pick Pec Rom over Parm Reg. Hands down. But some people object to the stinkiness of Pec Rom.

              1. re: southernitalian

                I usually don't use Pecorino Romano, but bought some recently and added it to my pesto, per Hazan's instructions, and it really gave it a nice bite.

          3. I prefer Pecorino with pastas if the ragu is duck; also prefer Pecorino with cauliflower, fava beans, and anything sauteed with garlic/mint/anchovy/red pepper.

            I prefer Parmesan with more delicate butter and egg sauces, veal/beef/pork ragus, asparagus, spinach, and truffles.

            Artichokes can go either way.

            The names of the cheeses suggest a general rule for what goes better with which foods... dishes from Emilia-Romagna will tend to work better with Parm, and Roman dishes will probably work better with Pecorino. You can also generalize that Emilia-Romagnan food is more delicate, refined, and butter based, and foods with those characteristics (even if they're not identifiably Italian) will work better with Parm, and that Roman food is more assertive and olive-oil based, so food with those characteristics will work better with Pecorino.

            That said, one of my favorite pasta dish is Lupa (in NYC)'s Cacio e Pepe, which uses half Pec, half Parm.

            7 Replies
            1. re: daveena

              good rundown daveena!
              I also like caciocavalo somewhere in between pecorino and parm, but more towards the pecorino dishes

              1. re: pitu

                Daveena, that was an EXCELLENT breakdown. I would just add that many of the "Roman" dishes (for lack of a better description) you refer to also call for parmesan. In fact, many of them, such as amatriciana, call for about a 3 to 1 parmesan-to-pecorino ratio. The main reason for this is the amount of cheese needed to achieve the appropriate consistency when mixing the sauce, cheeses, and pasta together; if you used all pecorino it would be far too strong. Even with the 3 to 1 ratio, the pecorino taste is by far the one that stands out.

                1. re: mangiatore

                  Thanks! This is actually a really fun exercise. I thought of a few more:

                  Pecorino - goat and lamb sugos, assertively flavored salumi
                  Parmesan - rabbit, butternut squash, prosciutto/Serrano ham

                  1. re: mangiatore

                    "I would just add that many of the "Roman" dishes (for lack of a better description) you refer to also call for parmesan. In fact, many of them, such as amatriciana, call for about a 3 to 1 parmesan-to-pecorino ratio."

                    They do NOT. Only eccentrics, or restaurants afraid that pecorino romano is too strong for their wimpy clients, would use parmigiano in amatriciana. Carbonara has evolved to take a combination of the two, but restaurants in Rome that observe tradition use only pecorino.

                2. re: daveena

                  Cacio e pepe traditionally is made with only pecorino romano. It is a Roman dish.

                  1. re: daveena

                    There's a Pecorino in Tuscany, Pecorino di Pienza, that is quite different from Pecorino Romana. That Pecorino ranges from the mild fresh version to an aged version -- along with variations such as aged in ash and aged wrapped in vine leaves and, then, buried in a cold running brook. I wouldn't use the two pecorino cheeses interchangeably.

                  2. The rule is: there are no rules! There are quite a number of delicious Italian cheeses that are used (tho definitely NOT exclusively) for grating. The ones that are most widely available and used in US are Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano. Pecorino Romano is made from sheeps milk, and comes from the area around Rome, so that's pretty much what they use there. Parmigiano Reggiano comes from the area around Parma in Emilia Romagna, and is pretty much what they use in that region. Grana Padano is from the Piedmont area and that's what the mostly use there. PR and Grana are cowsmilk cheeses.

                    As far as I know, you're good to go with whichever one you prefer -- and also, whichever one you can find in the store! I like all of them, and altho I sometimes use them interchangeably, I don't think they taste alike. If you can find all three, you might do a little taste test!

                    Personally, I really enjoy Parmigiano Reggiano as an "eating cheese," and I like it especially with Sangiovese wines (from Tuscany). Grana Padano goes really well with Barbera... It's also a tasty eating cheese. They all are!

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: ChefJune

                      FYI Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano are the same type of cheese: grana. The only distinction is that Parmigiano comes from Parma. Grana is made throughout northern Italy.

                      1. re: mangiatore

                        I adidn't say they were two different types of cheese They are not, however, the same cheese, as the cows from which the milk comes eat different foods.

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          I didn't mean to imply that they are the same cheese. Same type of cheese.

                          1. re: ChefJune

                            Huh? PECORINO is not made from cows, but from ewes, as the name clearly shows. I'm allergic to cow's milk, so this is an important matter to me.

                          2. re: mangiatore

                            The main difference is that cows producing Parmigiano-Reggiano eat only grass and cereals (no Silage), and no antibiotics. If a cow is cured by antibiotics she will be suspended from production of Parmigiano.

                            Chemical analysis shows that Parmigiano is a natural source of and has a higher concentration of Monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is a flavor-enhancer.

                            1. re: smarchesini

                              Monosodium glutamate or naturally occurring glutamates? The first is the sodium
                              salt of glutamates. My guess is that it's the latter.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                Naturally occurring glutamates are found in PR, as well as sundried tomatoes and some Japanese products. MSG is a synthesized version of these compounds.

                          3. re: ChefJune

                            umm.. ChefJune fYi both Parmigiano and Grana Padano are made throughput the north of Italy and the difference is Grana Padano is made with 50% skim milk and 50% whole milk and Parmigiano is made with about 10 percent naturally skimmed milk from the day before, by letting the milk sit 24 hours the cream rises.

                            1. re: BCIsayso

                              "both Parmigiano and Grana Padano are made throughput the north of Italy"

                              No. Both have specific DOP zones of production. parmigiano-reggiano is made in an area spanning parts of the provinces of Parma, Modena, Reggio Emilia, and Mantova. Grana Padano is made in 27 provinces north of the Po. And pecorino romano, also DOP, is made in parts of Lazio and Sardegna.

                          4. I think parmigiano is just a more wel known cheese and it is milder (cows milk vs. sheep). I think pecorino is paired better with more assertive sauces or when the dish is relatively simple and needs an extra dimension. One recipe that often uses pecorino is spaghetti carbonara, though mario batali's version uses parmigiano, and some use both. I really think it's a personal preference. Any dish of roman origin generally pairs well with pecorino, hence the "romano" in pecorino romano. Here are two recipes that I've made with pecorino that were very good:

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: izzizzi

                              Thanks for those links izzizzi. The linguini recipe seems to simple. Definitely will try this one.

                            2. Parm has a better marketing department and i think people have a comfort zone when offered in a resto.

                              The jfood fridge has three, Parm Reg, Perc Romano and the newest addition Asiago. If the burn rate of the cheese is any indication the Romano and the Asiago are this year's favorites with Parm lagging behind. My lasagne the other night i added the Romano to bake and when I reheated a piece last night i threw on the asiago.

                              So like others have stated, whatever wets your whistle at the time is the right cheese.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: jfood

                                Asiago is my favorite also, I love adding it to chicken marsala and pasta aoli. It's a sharper kick that melts smooth. I find Parm-Reg too mild sometimes (I guess it depend on how good a grade it is).

                                1. re: jfood

                                  In Italy pecorino sardo is probably more known than the roman one.
                                  Parmigiano does not just have a better marketing department, it has very strict rules on what cows can eat, which makes it more expensive. In a restaurant you never get the real thing, even though they may call it that.

                                  1. re: smarchesini

                                    I wouldn't say that any particular pecorino is more well known in Italy. For example, in Tuscany they would naturally say that pecorino toscano is the best/most known.