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Sep 7, 2013 04:47 PM

Good Parmesan cheese in N Cal stores?

[cross-posting from the California forum]

Earlier this year I had Parmesan cheese in a restaurant in Parma, Italy that was off-the-charts delicious.

Is it possible to buy cheese in N Cal that is as good or nearly as good as what is available in Emilia-Romagna?

I haven't had any luck so far with Parmesan products in local supermarkets.

P.S. I live in the Roseville area and regularly visit Sunnyvale. I'd be willing to shop within 20-30 minutes of either.

Thanks in advance for recommendations.

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  1. For starters, you want Parmigiano-Reggiano. Plain old "parmesan" is NOT the same thing. Look for the rind imprint like in the photo below. And forget about anything pre-grated. But even within that category, there's a pretty big difference between a chunk of parm that's from a wheel that was cracked open a few days ago, or a week ago, vs a chunk that's been lying around for a couple of months (not uncommon). I've had Parm-Reg from a wheel right after it was cracked open, and there's nothing like it.

    Also, although Parmigiano-Reggiano has to meet a minimum standard, some are still better than others (different farms, longer aging, etc).

    Try Cheeseboard in Berkeley, or Whole Foods. WF may not have the best cheese department, but they have a high product turnover, so your chances of getting a fresh product are probably better than they would be at a small cheese shop.

    18 Replies
    1. re: Steve Green

      Steve, thanks for the explanation, advice, and the awesome photo!

      I'll try WF.

      1. re: SimSportPlyr

        Also, please note that the average wheel of Parm-Reg is 80+ lbs, so your wedge will only have a small section of imprinted rind (at the risk of stating the obvious). It's also pretty pricy compared to ordinary parmesan, but believe me, it's worth it.

          1. re: SimSportPlyr

            I recently acquired a VERY nice hunk from a large wheel from Lucca on Valencia.

              1. re: CarrieWas218

                Next time I'm in that neighborhood, I'll shop there.


                1. re: CarrieWas218

                  Carrie, DW and I had a chance to visit Lucca yesterday.

                  We bought some P-R and some Romano.

                  Both were excellent and the best cheeses of those types I've had in the US.

                  Thanks again for the recommendation!

          2. re: Steve Green

            FWIW, I got some P-R at Whole Foods.

            It's pretty good, although not 'parma-good'. I have the sense that the difference may largely be freshness (or lack thereof) in terms of when the piece was cut off the wheel.

            The label says, "Parmigiano Reggiano Aged 24-months Mitica'.

            'Mitica' is a brand, I believe.

            1. re: SimSportPlyr

              I wonder if it's possible to get to know the 'cheese guy/gal' at WF or Corti Bros and find out when they cut pieces from the wheel, then buy it very recently-cut.

              Have any of you done that?

              1. re: SimSportPlyr

                I have never bought cheese at Corti Bros., but when I do buy Parmesan cheese at the Cheeseboard in Berkeley, it is always cut from the wheel as you watch and you taste it before you buy it. Ask at Corti Bros.

                1. re: wally

                  Wow, I'll have to figure out how to get to the Cheeseboard someday!

                  I don't go to Berkeley often, unfortunately.

                  1. re: wally

                    I repeat, ask at Corti Bros. And make sure it is Reggiano.

                    1. re: wally

                      Will do, Wally. In fact, I'll try to visit all of the recommended shops, although some are more convenient to my location than others.


                    2. re: wally

                      At the Cheeseboard, they are cutting off a piece of a very large piece of the big wheel.

                    3. re: SimSportPlyr

                      In case you're interested in how to cut a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, here's how:

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Wow, interesting!

                        I didn't realize that it's so tricky to cut up a wheel.

                        1. re: SimSportPlyr

                          They used to do it at my work place. I would always lurk around waiting for a chip off the heart of the wheel as the halves separated.

                          1. re: wolfe

                            How cool!

                            Around 1970 I worked in a cheese factory where we made cheddar wheels, but I never got to see it chopped up after being aged.

                    1. re: rmarisco

                      I would be really surprised if anyplace in Northern California had better Parmesan-R than Corti Brothers.

                      1. re: Tripeler

                        just thinking... i'm wondering how many wheels they go through in a year! 5? 25? 125???

                        1. re: rmarisco

                          I am certain there are other places with product as good, but would find it hard to believe another place would have better Parmesan R. From the looks of the Corti Bros. store, it is easy to imagine they don't do enormous volume, but their care for products is exceptional.

                    2. Check at your local Costco. I believe the Richmond store has Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio or did.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: wolfe

                        Thanks, Wolfe. I'll look at Costco.

                        1. re: SimSportPlyr

                          Yes, Costco regularly carries Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio -- aged 36 months. Pretty good!

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            That's what I've been buying lately: $12.89 a pound.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              Jupiter, Robert, Maria, Ruth, I bought Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio at Costco in Roseville for $12.49/lb and it's excellent. I prefer it to other P-R I've bought in the Sac area (Corti Bros, Nugget, etc) and it's also less expensive than the P-R at those other outlets.

                              Thanks for the recommendation!

                        2. re: wolfe

                          I whole heartedly second the Costco suggestion. i have bought a lot of aged parm from fancy cheese vendors the costco stravecchio is just as good. nutty and crystaline when you eat it in chunks, but shaves and grates wonderfully as well.
                          We pretty much go through a chunk every month or two. it is one of the few staples that we keep our costco membership for.

                          1. re: jupiter

                            Yeah, although after much discussion of how to store cheese on the Chowhound Cheese board (you do know there's now a board dedicated to the discussion of cheese, don't you?), I'd recommend taking it out of the plastic immediately upon purchase, wrapping it loosely in cheese paper or waxed or parchment paper and then putting that in a plastic bag or container. The plastic shrink wrap doesn't do the cheese any favors.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Yes. i unwrap it from the shrink wrap and wrap it in parchment and then throw it in a ziploc (the same one i have used for years), but that is more for my own piccadilo's as i have a strong aversion to food wrapped in plastic, it seems somehow very wrong....
                              and now i have another board to focus on while wasting time at work ;) thanks Ruth!

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                I've been told to use paper many times, but in my experience most cheeses keep longer and better in plastic wrap. Maybe it varies depending on what brand you use. I use the non-clingy giant Kirkland roll from Costco.

                                The Costco Reggiano chunks keep perfectly as vacuum-sealed from the store. After I open the package, I vacuum-seal whatever portion I won't use within a few days with my FoodSaver.

                          2. If you live in Roseville, definitely Corti Bros.

                            The Cheese Board in Berkeley sometimes has exceptionally good Reggiano.

                            Costco's a reliable source for excellent quality.

                            2 Replies
                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I went to Corti Bros a few days ago and bought some P-R and some Romano.

                                The P-R was excellent, although at $23/lb pricier than I was expecting.

                              2. Has anyone seen Reggiano in a Costco hereabouts lately? I haven't found it on recent visits to Richmond, Fremont, and Redwood City.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  It was missing for a trip or two, but I bought it Sunday at the Concord Costco.