True Parmigiano-Reggiano is a strictly regulated product, made of milk from dairy cows that graze pastures in specific provinces of Italy. It’s long-aged and carefully inspected before making it to the market.
But because U.S. trademark law applies only to the Italian name, most U.S. “Parmesan cheese” products adhere to no such standards.
This is particularly true of grated Parmesan, which is often cut with cheaper cheeses as well as with cellulose, a food additive that keeps the cheese from clumping in the container — and from melting properly when heated.
Finding Real Parmesan Cheese
Parmigiano-Reggiano that meets Italian standards will have the name stamped in pin dots on the rind. “If you’re buying a wedge, no matter how little cheese you’re buying, you should be able to see some of those dots,” explains Larry Olmsted, author of Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It.
He warns against buying grated Parmesan, but if you must, look for “Parmigiano-Reggiano” on the label. If possible, pick a Parm that was grated and labeled at the grocery store, rather than a commercial product processed in a factory, to increase your chances of getting the good stuff.
Watch out for imposters among some of your favorite foods, and learn how to be sure you’re buying the real deal, by reading “How to Find Real Honey, Coffee, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, Parmesan Cheese, and Maple Syrup,” from which this article was excerpted.