parmigiano reggiano in north america
In the last few years, the quality of parmigiano reggiano that I've bought in Toronto, at roughly the same price point of $40/kg ($18/lb), has varied widely. Most disappointing is when the cheese is moist and lacking in the that traditional sharp nutty flavour, often being actually bitter. A perfect example was the Tre Stelle brand I bought this afternoon, after the fresh cut pieces were all sold out. I typically avoid Tre Stelle and other pre-packaged brands for this reason.
I wonder if North America is not being supplied with under-aged parmigiano reggiano. Any takers for this theory?
I think the issue is with the pre packed-ness of this cut. Before i really got into cheese I didn't understand the "big deal" about real PR because all I had been exposed to were pre packed, cryovac'd wedges or grated at a restaurant on top of an already rich pasta dish. When I started eating PR straight and tasting the difference with age, handling (sometimes bad due to my own fault), maker (usually hard to find out bc DOP PR is generally just sold as DOP PR), etc.
I think the best piece of advice I could give to anyone eating almost any type of cheese and especially harder, aged cheese is to:
1) Clean the exposed areas of cheese especially anything that may have been touching plastic/ cryo vac/ etc - it does impart a weird flavor
2) let that bad boy come up to room temperature. A Big piece like the ones you get from Costco may need an hour or so to warm up depending on how warm it is. It will be tempting to let hte cheese come to room temp inside the cryo vac package but believe me - cleaning then warming up is the best method, otherwise you will have to deal with slimy moisture build up.
I guess unwrapping, room temping, and then cleaning would be the most ideal method but it's a lot easier to clean a cold piece of cheese than a warm one and slightly oxidized is a better problem than plastic tasting.
It looks like TreStella is the real deal, but is a cut and vac-pack marketed product. If it is at all possible, you should try and find a shop that will cut (break) the pieces to order or that only breaks up enough to last for a couple of days.
If you are at a store that does actually cut their own cheese, then ask them for a piece. Almost no good shop will actually run out of good DOP Parm.
I've also noted that cheeses of comparable quality have gone up in price and that many shops are getting less aged product to keep their price stable.
Not to cast aspersions on your retailer, but.... did your rind have the parmigiano reggiano imprint? I ask because I have seen retailers market other (inferior) cheeses as PR.
Also, have seen retailers market 18 month as 24 month. This, I don't think, is as big an issue as the first.
The third solution may be that you bought a pre-wrapped cryo cheese, and it had lost much of it's allure thus treated.
All Parmigiano-Reggiano wheels must be inspected and graded by an official Consortium. That doesn't happen until a wheel has aged for 12 months. If it passes muster, it is stamped and can be sold as P-R. However, P-R designated for export is not released until it is at least 18 months old. I have not seen any evidence that this rule has been relaxed in the wake of the earthquake that sunshine842 speaks of. I don't think that the entire stock of P-R then aging in storage facilities was destroyed by the earthquake, just part of it.
I can't say anything about Tre Stelle, which I'm not familiar with. It's possible that it's not authentic P-R, in which case it should not carry the P-R name. It's also possible that it was mishandled somewhere along the line, either during transport or by the distributor or store.
Is it really genuine DOP parmigiano reggiano? Looking at the Tre Stella website I can't tell. I see lots of "imported" parm that turns out to have been made in Argentina.
It should say how long it's been aged on the packaging. I buy the DOP parmigiano reggiano stravecchio, aged three years, at Costco.