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Affordable Parmesan?

I know food prices are up across the board ... but I still have to imagine that there's a place in the Bay Area that sells real Parmigiano-Reggiano for less than $16 a pound. Any suggestions?

I miss $9.99 Parmesan at the Fairway!

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  1. Trader Joe's and in Berkeley try Country Cheese. I believe they have it at Costco but it is the large Italian family size.

    Country Cheese
    1578 Hopkins St, Berkeley, CA

    5 Replies
    1. re: wolfe

      Yes, it's @ Costco for 11.99 lb. in 18 to 28 oz. chunks. If you store it right, it keeps for a lo-o-ong time and gets better w/ age (as in little crystals of cheesy goodness forming). It is true "reggiano" w/ the brand burned into the rind easily visible. Adam

      1. re: adamshoe

        OK, I am now the proud owner of nearly two pounds of Costco Parmigiano ... delicious; definitely the real thing. Only $11.29 a pound - just what I was hoping for.

        So how do you "store it right"? Because I'm not going to polishing this off this week.

        1. re: Eris48

          It'll keep for a looong time in the fridge. Essentially forever -- if anything does start to grow, you can just scrape it off. Do keep it wrapped so it doesn't dry out, though.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            What she said.... another good trick is to use fresh plastic wrap every time you re-wrap it (I know...not PC, but you can turn the plastic OVER and use the unexposed side....) and it will keep for an entire presidential administration-or maybe even two ;) Adam
            P.S. Pat it dry if there's any moisture before re-wrapping....

          2. re: Eris48

            Sorry to deflate your storage balloon but it will not taste the same stored for months.
            Plastic wrapping et al. Maybe you won't be so in tune with the change, then hats off.
            Freshly cracked wheel is definitely better, not to say it is no good months later, it is fine just less potent and sometimes far less so to the point it is useless to me.
            Buy as little as you can and use it up, that is my reco.
            Also, you won't always know how long it has been sitting around already when you buy it. You would think Costco, not so long because of the huge turnover but who knows. Never tested their Parm Reg, I know they have some other horrendously terrible versions of cheese even under brand names that are usually much better when bought elsewhere.

      2. I can't remember exact price -- about $13 lb?? -- at Lucca on Valencia at 21st. Best price I've found so far and I really like the store -- free parking lot on Valencia a bonus.

        1 Reply
        1. re: walker

          They also sell a totally acceptable Reggianito from Argentina for a fraction of that.

        2. I'm not sure of the exact pricing but here goes.

          -Lucca usually has reasonably prices on Reggiano

          -Rainbow Grocery is also reasonably priced

          -Failing that I usually by mine from Trader Joes, not quite as fresh as what you'll get from a specialty store but still good.

          Rainbow Grocery
          1745 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103

          Lucca Ravioli
          1100 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

          Trader Joe's
          3 Masonic Ave, San Francisco, CA

          1. So, did Fairway cut directly from the wheel or was it pre-cut and pre-packaged? Was it from Italy or domestic? I know you wrote 'real', but until I started looking closer I found some of the parmigiano-reggianos labeled as such are made in the US.

            If you are interested in pre-grated, Grocery Outlet is selling refrigerated North Beach brand parmesan cheese at $1.49 for 4 oz ... or $6 lb. Made in USA though ... in Hayward.

            Molinari's sells pre-cut end pieces at a discount. Don't know the price per pound though.

            15 Replies
            1. re: rworange

              How can a parm-reggiano be made in the US? The rind is stamped with their "DOP" thingy. I'd be furious if I discovered that I was being scammed on that!! Like calling sparkling wine "Champagne" or brandy "cognac". I've seen US brands that say "parm", but not "Reggiano"
              Where have you seen this, RW? Adam

              1. re: adamshoe

                Parm made in the U.S is NOT the real deal -- it is crap. If you don't have a trustworthy cheese shop in your town, try igourmet.com. They are extremely reliable, but you're still not going to find "cheap" high quality cheese. It doesn't exist.

                1. re: pikawicca

                  Yes, and America's Test Kitchen recently had an episode confirming that point exactly. You get what you pay for and none of the US brands came even close to the quality of the imported cheeses. The issue is the pasteurization required in the US kills some of the good bacteria and enzymes that help develop the cheese's signature flavor and texture.

                2. re: adamshoe

                  Walk into any supermarket like Safeway. Pick up a piece of cheese in the fancy deli section called parmesan and the chances are it is from the US.

                  There are actually a few Italian delis that do this as well but they are careful to label it as not imported. I know Zarre's in Albany carries the stuff from Italy as well as Amercian parmesan-reggiano, etc. I'm trying to remember if A.G. Ferrari or Cheeseboard do this as well.

                  The cheese I bought from Grocery Outlet has "Italian-style" at the top in small letters with Parmesan Cheese in big letters in the center.

                  1. re: rworange

                    "Walk into any supermarket like Safeway. Pick up a piece of cheese in the fancy deli section called parmesan and the chances are it is from the US." Ok, I always check to see the country of origin, but you haven't answered my question. Can you call a cheese "American Parm Reggiano" when it's not from Parma, Italy? So you can have a "Reggiano" cheese that is domestic??? WTF? I can see having a US version of Parmesan, eg. asiago etc., but how can they call it "Reggiano" when it's not from Italy? Sounds like you and I can be the first to start a class action lawsuit... (Although Russian dressing doesn't have to be from Russia ;) Adam

                    1. re: adamshoe

                      My Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio from Trader Joe's says "product of Italy", but not what part of Italy. What's Stravecchio? Anyhow, it's not expensive, but it's also not very good. It doesn't have those crunchy "flavor crystals."

                      1. re: Glencora

                        I think stravecchio means that it's aged longer- 3 yrs or so. It may be DOP as well. Usual DOP parmigiano-reggiano is 18-24 mos. I think.

                        Regarding calling domestic (non-Italian) cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano, I have never seen it myself and don't know if it's subject to an international agreement, but pretty clearly it's legal to call US bubbly Champagne, so it may be to call US cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano. Then again, the producer's groups may have been able to register the trademark or there may be another agreement in force.

                        1. re: twocents

                          I think the only US producer that can call their sparkling wine Champagne is Korbel (grandfathered)...there are probably a few others.


                          1. re: Husky

                            I have to admit that I am not up to date on this, but as you note there are definitely others besides Korbel, including Andre and J. Roget. My real question is to what extent do US (and Australian) producers recognize EU laws regarding PDO labeling outside of the EU. I don't think it's settled, as I heard something on NPR last year about Andre being trans-shipped through Belgium being confiscated and destroyed. It's interesting to note that most American sparkling wine producers avoid the champagne label, even though it was voluntary until recently (2004-2005, even assuming it is no longer). Reading a little on this earlier today, it seems the EU is pushing even to make extra-EU labeling of things like Parmesan cheese verboten.

                            I see both sides but am mostly agnostic. German Prosciutto is clearly not prosciutto, whatever they want to call it. (I've had that TJ's stuff too.)

                          2. re: twocents

                            Si Due Centimo! Bravo! Stra= extra, vecchio= old/ aged. I would think that older is better (like wine), but with parm., I'm not certain. To me, calling a cheese that's NOT from Parma a Parmesano , is just a big bowl of wrong!! That's why grana Padano is called grana Padano. Almost the exact same cheese and method of aging, but it's not from Parma, hence, the different moniker. (sort of like the "prosciutto" at TJ's from, of all places, Germany- they can't call it prosciutto di Parma cause it ain't...) On another subject, is "asiago" a cheese that exists in Italy, or just another "fume blanc" made up word for domestic Parm.? Adam

                              1. re: wolfe

                                Thanks wolfeman!! (or woman...) Adam. (always thought it was a marketing ploy from Wisconsin cheesedudes; good to know it really "exists")

                              2. re: adamshoe

                                Like the Ponte Vecchio. I should have been able to figure that out.

                              3. re: twocents

                                It's not legal to call US bubbly champagne and it isn't legal to call american parmesan parmigiano- reggiano. They do it but it is not correct to call it that. Unfortunately there needs to be more education in the food industry. Even some professionals are ill advised.

                          3. re: rworange

                            They may call it parmesan, but I've never seen American parmesan called parmagiano reggiano.

                            The Costco parmagiano reggiano stravecchio is delicious, and it's real DOP parmesan. Definitely the best parm bang for the buck.

                      2. If you can make it out to Mountain View, the Milk Pail Market often has real Parmigiano Reggiano on sale for something like $8/lb. You just have to make sure you go when there's a sale.

                        1. You might also want to try Grana Padano, which is an Italian grating cheese made in Italy that is very similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano. The former generally sells for $2 to $4 less per pound than the latter.

                          The primary difference between the two is that Grana Padano is made from a wider geographic region in the Po River Valley than Parmigiano-Reggiano. It would be similar to sparking wine made in France from grapes grown near, but not in, the genuine Champagne district.

                          Trader Joe's often has both cheeses in stock.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: DavidT

                            Just got back from the TJ's on Masonic. They are selling genuine parmigiano reggiano for $12.99lb. and grana padano for $9.99lb. They are also selling an Australian-made parmesan (aged over 1 year) for $9.99lb.

                          2. Try the cheese shop in Glen Park. Two blocks from BART, if you can get to BART easily.

                            1. I am used to $24/lb for the "real stuff; in the olden days, I would buy "dry jack" for ~1/4 the price of Parm-Reg, I don't know if it still available, but when my "real stuff" runs out, I will be looking.

                              During WWII, imports from Italy were prohibited, local cheese producers started making "dry jack" as a local version of Parm-Reg.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Alan408

                                Interestingly the Dry Jack by Vella is more expensive that the genuine Parmesan on igourmet.

                                1. re: wolfe

                                  I love Vella's bags of grated dry jack that they only sell at the shop in Sonoma. I'm not sure what the weight is, but I'm guessing the small bag at $7.50 is 1/2 lb and the humoungous bag is lb at $15. I specifically drive there when I run out ... or try to combine other business up that way with a trip to Vella's. They say it will last years and ages well as it gets older. Don't know. I keep thinking it will last ... but ... I use it up too quickly.

                                    1. re: wolfe

                                      Glass jars in the kitchen cabinet. They said not to refridgerate it because they don't grate it until all moisture is removed and putting it in the fridge would re-introduce some moisture and cause it to mold. On the shelf it just ages gracefully. One customer had some that was 5 years old.

                                    2. re: rworange

                                      I just ordered 2 pounds of this online for $32. They specify not to refrigerate. I am intrigued.

                                2. I know that most Chowhounders knew that that the rind was delicious, when used in cooking, but it was news to me. Grated as fine as you can it makes a great tasting addition and the larger chunks that don't melt into the dish make yummy, chewy bits.

                                  1. DavidT raised an excellent point. There's nothing quite like Reggiano. But, various Granas have been available in this area for decades and are very good related cheeses, for the same applications. Trader Joe's cheese sections sell sealed refrigerated tubs of shaved Grana too.

                                    Milk Pail -- excellent suggestion for peninsula. _Roughly_ paralleling the good neighborhood cheese shops of the Berkeley area. Crowded in recent years. (To get though the crowds, it helps to know a little Russian!)

                                    I agree even the serious US "Parmesan" efforts are nothing like Reggiano. To be fair though, some that I've tried are a _lot_ better than they were when I started trying them in the 1970s. They have also narrowed the price difference vs Reggiano, so in value terms they may have gotten worse.

                                    1. In case you don't know this, authentic Italian Parm will have the words "Parmigiano Reggiano" stenciled into the rind. If you're buying Parm and it has no rind, beware.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                        Yup. The Costco/Kirkland has that on the rind. It's a "stravecchio" and says "aged over 36 months" on the label and has the DOP symbol as well (I just went in the kitchen and carved myself a strip -- yum!).