Help us help you

If we have helped you become a better cook, please become a Pitmaster Club member and help us become a better website. Benefits for members include:

(1) Seminars with famous Pitmaster Professors
(2) Access to The Pit forum
(3) An all new expanded Temperature Guide Magnet
(4) Gold Medal Giveaways of free grills and smokers
(5) Support for Operation BBQ Relief
(6) Support for AmazingRibs.com!

Learn more about the Pitmaster Club

Not ready to subscribe yet? Return to AmazingRibs.com

grill, smoker, thermometer, accessories ratings
AmazingRibs.com BBQ Logo

message from meathead

Meathead the Barbecue & Grilling Lover Cartoon

Get Smoke Signals,
our FREE e-letter.
No spam. Guaranteed. Enter your email:

bbq ad


If you like AmazingRibs.com, please save this link and use it every time you go to Amazon. Amazon and many other websites pay us a small referral fee when you click our links and purchase from them. It works on everything from grills to diapers, Amazon never tells us what you bought, it has zero impact on the price you pay, but has a major impact on our ability to improve this site!

Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

bbq thermapen

GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone


Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips or pellets or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $299 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

Amp Up The Smoke

mo's smoking pouch

Gold BBQ AwardMo's Smoking Pouch is essential for gas grills. It is an envelope of mesh 304 stainless steel that holds wood chips or pellets. The airspaces in the mesh are small enough that they limit the amount of oxygen that gets in so the wood smokes and never bursts into flame. Put it on top of the cooking grate, on the burners, on the coals, or stand it on edge at the back of your grill. It holds enough wood for about 15 minutes for short cooks, so you need to refill it or buy a second pouch for long cooks like pork shoulder and brisket. Mine has survived more than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

steak knives for bbq

The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.

tailgater magazine

Grating Parmigiano-ReggianoThe Science Of Parmesan

"The stuff in the green toilet paper tube is to real parmesan as McRib is to real ribs." Meathead

By Meathead Goldwyn

Parmigiano-Reggiano (pahr-mih-JOHN-o red-gee-YAH-no), properly called "The King of Cheeses" in Italy and prosaically called parmesan in this country, is a magical cheese. Dotted with crunchy crystals and permeated with the mysterious flavor enhancer, umami, it barely resembles the poplar imitator labeled parmesan.

The real stuff comes only from dairies in the fertile Po River Valley in the Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia regions of northern Italy around the towns of Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Mantova.

At about 12 months old, the minimum allowed by law, this medium-fat semi-hard to hard cheese is pale colored, noticeably but not overly salty, with a little sharp acidity, and a mildly nutty nose. It is never pungent or stinky.

A major part of its charm is its unique dual texture, both creamy and grainy (grana) at the same time, like a bass fiddle with piano duet. The flesh practically melts in your mouth leaving behind craggy granules. If you look at it closely you can see why: An occasional jewel-like glistening crystal of an amino acid called tyrosine.

Aged Parmigiano-ReggianoParmigiano-Reggiano is also high in other amino acids called glutamates, which create a rich flavor called umami, a Japanese word that translates loosely to a "savory deliciousness". Japanese chefs and scientists first identified the taste phenomenon and the fact that our tongues seem to have specialized receptors for umami, and they tell us that the foods highest in umami are meats, mushrooms, soy sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bottom line: The flavor of Parmigiano-Reggiano is explosive, expansive, and lingering.

It cracks, crumbles, and flakes, shaves and grates easily. Not surprisingly, it is commonly grated onto pastas where it melts easily. When broiled or baked Parmigiano-Reggiano has an incredible nuttiness to accompany the endlessly fascinating texture which is grainy when raw, chewy when warm, and crunchy crisp when melted and cooled.

Because it is relatively low fat, it ages well. As it ages up to 36 months, it gets tan and then amber, concentrates in flavor, gets slightly sweeter, becomes more powerful and complex, and develops more crystals while maintaining a butterscotch-like creaminess at the same time. As it ages the natural uncoated rind gets rock hard. When young it can sell for $12-20 per pound. Older cheeses can run up to $30.

How it is made

VatsEach wheel is hand-crafted pretty much the same way it has been made for more than 800 years, now under the watchful eye of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano, the official regulatory and promotional agency. Alas, American parmesan bears little resemblance to the real deal and legally cannot be called Parmigiano, but more on that later.

The process of making Parmigiano-Reggiano is almost identical at the 450 dairies throughout the region. It evolved at the monasteries and castles in the 1200s. The large flat fields of grass in the region were perfect for grazing cattle for meat, milk, and butter. The salt came from the village of Salsomaggiore, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Parma. Before refrigeration, salt was an important preservative for meat, and, as it turned out, for cheese. The cheese that the local monks developed was especially prized because it could be kept for years at cellar temperature. A good thing, because refrigeration wasn't invented for another 400 years.

Today, the process begins in the fields where the cattle graze only on grass and hay. No sileage is allowed. The farmers disdain feed kept in silos because preservatives must be added to prevent mold, and they feel this affects the taste of the milk, not to mention it would prevent them from calling the cheese 100% natural. After they are milked, the rich liquid is left unpasteurized leaving the microbes in them alive, another important influence on the final product. The last batch of milk arrives at the dairy (caseificio) late in the afternoon where it is kept cool and left to settle overnight. The cheesemaker (casaro) arrives early the next morning to greet the fresh milk as it arrives and to skim the cream off the milk from yesterday.

About 172 gallons of fresh milk is mixed with a like amount of the skimmed milk in a steam-jacketed, copper-lined, flat-bottomed, sloped sided cauldrons (calderoni or caldaie) and the mix is warmed to about 91°F (33°C). Then they add bacteria rich whey starter culture from yesterday's cheesemaking, and rennet, curdled milk from the stomach of an unweaned calf containing the enzyme rennin. Within 10 minutes the milk begins to curdle and separate into lumpy curds and thin yellowish watery whey. The casaro reaches in and feels the mix, running it through his fingers, rubbing it with his finger tips, and when it feels right, he breaks up the curds with a wire ball about twice the size of a basketball on a stick releasing more whey. The curds are now about the size and feel of warm white rice, and the mix is then cranked up to about 131°F (55°C) and stirred rapidly with something that looks like a large outboard motor. All through the process the cesaro watches closely and feels and tastes the curds. When it's right, the stirring stops and it is allowed to rest for about an hour. The curds sink and the whey rises.

Fresh Parmigiano-ReggianoWhen things have have separated, and the curds congealed into one thick mass at the tapered bottom of the vat, the casaro uses a paddle to pry it from the bottom of the vat and lift it to the surface of the yellowish whey and, with the help of an assistant, gathers it into a ball in cheesecloth. It is shiny white, about the consistency of bread dough, looks a lot like a giant ball of fresh mozarella, and weighs close to 200 pounds. It is then cut in half and each of the "twins" is hung above the vat in cheesecloth slings to drain for about 15 minutes.

The whey, about 300 gallons of it, is drained away and some is used for making ricotta cheese and some is sold to farmers who feed it to hogs for Prosciutto di Parma, the famous cured ham made nearby. The cream that is skimmed from the cheese is churned into butter.

Still in the cloth, the fresh cheese balls are placed into molds. A weight is placed on top of each ball and it is left to drain for two more hours. The molds are flipped, and after two hours flipped again. The cloth is then removed, the cheese is then placed into stainless steel molds lined with belts that have the distinctive pin-dot brand "Parmigiano-Reggiano" and the date on them.

Parmigiano-Reggiano in brineAfter two more days of drying, the wheels of cheese, now flat on top and bottom, are immersed in a 26% brine for about three weeks. The salt migrates about 1/4" into the cheese and more moisture exits. This salt is the only legal additive.

Parmigiano-Reggiano AgingThen the wheels are off to the aging room where, now down to about 86 pounds, they are placed on wooden shelves for aging. During this aging, the salt migrates evenly throughout the wheel, and many changes occur to the flavor and texture. The temperature is kept to about 61F (about 16C) and 80% humidity. These astounding cathedrals of cheese house thousands of golden wheels rising up to the high ceilings and the perfume of milk wafts through the air.

Testing Parmigiano-ReggianoIn the first two weeks the wheels are flipped every few days, and while the rinds are still soft, the edges are smoothed. After that the wheels and shelves are brushed clean and flipped every seven days. Only a few dairies still do it by hand, while most have "modernized" and use an elaborate machine for this tedious and backbreaking task.

After a year an inspector from the Consorzio tests every wheel by thumping it all over with a small metal hammer. He can tell by the sound if it is cracked or if there is an air bubble, and if there is a defect, the wheel is stripped of the official markings and usually sold to factories for grinding.

If the wheel passes it gets the Consorzio stamp of approval. It can either be packaged for sale or aged further. At its minimum age of 12-18 months it is called mezzano. At its most common age of 18-24 months it is called vecchio. The more rare 24-36 months of age it is called stravecchio or extravecchio, and occasionally a few producers sell cheese up to 48 months old. By the time you get it and the dehydration has finished, it has taken two gallons of milk to make one pound of cheese. There are about three million wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano and four million wheels of it's cousin, Grana Padano, made each year.

Accept no substitutes

There are many cheeses made around the world similar to, but not equal to P-R:

American Parmesan. American parmesan is made in a similar fashion, and the best can be very nice, but the subtle production differences are almost always easy to discern in the mouth. It begins with the cattle, which usually dine on specially formulated feed. The milk is pasteurized, which helps prevent disasters, but also impacts the flavor. Nonanimal rennet is usually used, as well as storebought starter cultures rather than whey from yesterday's cheesemaking. The curds are broken by machine, leaving larger curds that are more moist. Domestic wheels are smaller which often produces saltier cheese. Finally, they can be aged for as little as six months so full flavor has not had time to develop. The result is a texture that is usually drier, rubbery, and without the crunch of the original. And they are blander.

Grana Padano. Here is one imitator worth noting. Grana Padano is made just to the north of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Grana Padano's production process is similar, but slightly different. Cattle can be fed silage, not just grass and hay, the milk does not have to be as fresh, and it contains less fat. It can be sold as young as nine months and is rarely aged beyond 24 months.

Black Wax Parmesan from Argentina. This is a lovely creamy nutty cheese that grates well, but is not very much like Parmigiano-Reggiano. It lacks the graininess, is not as salty, and has a wax rind, not a natural cheese rind.

Buying Parmigiano-Reggiano

Better groceries, gourmet stores, and cheese shops will carry real Parmigiano-Reggiano. The real stuff has the distinctive dot pattern that spells out Parmigiano-Reggiano on the rind. If it's not there, it's not PR. You will not likely find the name of the producer, that is rarely revealed. You might find the name of the importer, however. You may be able to see the date on the wheel, but if that part has been sold, a good cheese monger should be able to tell you its age. For cooking or shredding coarsely, buy younger cheeses. For eating straight, go for the more mature wedges. Age really matters. Older sheeses are just plain better. More flavorful, more tart, more crunchy. Buy it in wedges rather than grated or cubed so it doesn't dry out. Ask for center sections with less rind. On older cheeses the rind can be very hard, almost impossible to chew. But don't throw away the rind. There are some very good uses for the rind. A number of gourmet stores sell high quality Parmigiano-Reggianobarbecue through Amazon.com.

Storing Parmigiano-Reggiano

Because it can dry out quickly, it is a good idea to keep Parmigiano-Reggiano in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or container. The best method is to wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Because it is not very moist, it does not mold easily. If it does get moldy, you can simply cut off the moldy layer and wash the surface to remove any spores left behind by the knife. Then pat dry with a paper towel.

Visiting a Caseificio

There are PR producers scattered throughout Emilia-Romagna and you can find them a short drive from Bologna. Many have retail shops, and some offer free tours. You need to get there early, usually before 8 a.m., and plan to spend three hours in order to see the milk coming in and the formation of the curds. You should make an appointment, especially if you need an English tour (an interpreter may cost you). For more info, go to http://www.parmigiano-reggiano.it click on "English", click on "Dairies", and click on "Guided visit".

Varietal cheese?

labeling parmigiano-reggianoSince the the end of WWII, most of the cattle are the familiar black and white Holsteins (called Frisona), high volume milk producers. There are also red cows from (vacche rosse or Reggiana), white cows from Modena (bianca Modenese), and Brown cows from Switzerland (bruna Alpina).

According to Faith Willinger, a Florence-based food writer, cookbook author, and teacher of renown, beginning in 1991 the Notari Dairy began switching to the red cow, an heirloom breed. Willinger raves over their cheese, calling it "Italy's greatest Parmigiano. The secret is that Reggiana milk has more casein, so it holds more butterfat, resulting in a richer, big-flavored cheese that's almost youthful at the standard two years and capable of aging far longer than those made with other milks."

Notari's cheese bears the producer identification code 101, a number not always visible, and, alas, you are not likely to find it in the US. But if you're in the neighborhood, you can buy it at the dairy: Caseificio Notari, Istituto Agrario A Zanelli, via Fratelli Roselli, Reggio nell'Emilia, phone 39-0522-321-344.

A very nice Parmigiano Reggiano from vacche rossebarbecue made by Villa Sabbione near Reggio Emilia can occasionally be found online. For my money, age is more important than breed of cow, but if all else is equal, try the vacche rosse.

Serving and cooking with Parmigiano-Reggiano

In an interview in TIME magazine Chef Mario Batali said that in his many Iron Chef competitions on the Food Network, "I think my favorite secret ingredient was Parmigiano-Reggiano. The potential for that ingredient is infinite." Here are a few of the things you can do with this wonderful cheese.

As an appetizer. Eating Parmigiano-Reggiano chunks is superb eating all alone as an appetizer, especially as it passes the 24 month age. It goes well with olives, nuts, marinated mushrooms, sausage, and a whole range of anti-pasti. Serve it straight and drizzled with a high quality aged balsamic vinegar. Slivers of this salty cheese draped on slices of pear make a great foil for the sweetness.

Grated on cold dishes. Parmigiano-Reggiano is hard enough for shredding and grating into fine powders for sprinkling on cold dishes such as salads, especially Caesar salads, and carpaccio.

Mixed in hot dishes. Parmigiano-Reggiano melts well and adds depth and richness when sprinkled on hot dishes such as pastas, soups, stews, risotto, polenta, and grits.

As a crust. It also makes a crunchy-chewy crust when grated and melted on casseroles, crostini, or pizza.


Frico: Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps. The best tasting and easiest to make appetizers and snacks ever.

Grilled Asparagus Spears to the Heart. You'll never boil or steam asparagus again.

Grilled Eggplant Parmigiano-Reggiano. Coming soon: If you love Eggplant Parmesan as served in most restaurants, you are in for a treat, because this simple recipe just kicks its butt. Slaughters it. The secret: Grilling the eggplant rather than frying it.

Summer Tomato Salad. Coming soon: Fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, a good balsamic vinegar, and The King of Cheeses. Nothing better.

Parmigiano-Reggiano Risotto. Coming soon.

Hammered Grilled Chicken Parmesan. Coming soon.

Alfredo Sauce. Coming soon.

Parma Salad with Parmigiano-Reggiano with Prosciutto di Parma, Apples, Chestnuts, and Balsamic Vinaigrette. Coming soon.

This page was revised 2/18/2009

Please read this before posting a comment or question

grouchy?1) Please use the table of contents or the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help, then please post your question on the appropriate page.

2) Please tell us everything we need to know to answer your question such as the type of cooker and thermometer you are using. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can't help you. Please read this article about thermometers.

3) If you post a photo, wait a minute for a thumbnail to appear. It will happen even if you don't see it happen.

4) Click here to learn more about our comment system and our privacy promise. Remember, your login info for comments is probably different from your Pitmaster Club login info if you are a member.


LeaderDog.org Ad on BBQ site

About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, edited by Meathead.

This site is brought to you by readers like you who support us with their membership in our Pitmaster Club. Click here to learn more about benefits to membership.

Advertising on this site. AmazingRibs.com is by far the most popular barbecue website in the world and one of the 50 most popular food websites in the US according to comScore, Quantcast, Compete, and Alexa. Visitors and pageviews increase rapidly every year. Click here for analytics and advertising info.

© Copyright 2014 by AmazingRibs, Inc. AmazingRibs.com is published by AmazingRibs, Inc., a Florida Corporation. Unless otherwise noted, all text, recipes, photos, and computer code are owned by AmazingRibs, Inc. and fully protected by US copyright law. This means that unless you have written permission to publish or distribute anything on this website you have committed a Federal crime. But we're easy. To get reprint rights, just click here. You do not need permission to link to this website. Note. Some photos of commercial products such as grills were provided by the manufacturers and are under their copyright.