Aged, original Parmesan cheese from Italy. (AP Photo/Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano)

Apparently, real Parm is worth the price. Even when it’s a steep one.

It’s been many years since I bought one of those green cans of sawdust some companies pass off as grated Parmesan cheese.

During a trip to Italy in 2001, my wife and I experienced an awakening — real Parmesan cheese (which in Italy is more accurately called Parmigiano-Reggiano) paired with deep red wines and balsamic vinegar. It was textbook umami — deeply savory, rich and lasting on the tongue. The texture was firm, but not dry.

Once back in the States, there was no going back. The cans were banned and the domestic stuff tasted, well, domesticated. That’s due in part to the aging. American Parms often are aged about a year. Italian Parms age at least two years, often more.

But since every now and again it’s worthwhile to test whether our biases merit reconsideration, I recently purchased six varieties of Parmesan — three canned, one shredded, one domestic block and one imported block.

To try them out, I boiled linguini and tossed it with olive oil and garlic. My wife and I then topped a bit of pasta with each of the six cheeses to determine whether variety mattered in what probably is the most common use of Parm in America.

Turns out, it matters greatly.



Any food that carries a ‘‘style’’ suffix can’t be good. It reads like an apology, as though the manufacturer knows the product won’t live up to the real thing. Certainly was the case on this one.

In its defense, the Parmesan Style Grated Topping (and if you’re going to make lousy cheese, at least be grammatical about it — there needs to be a hyphen between ‘‘Parmesan’’ and ‘‘Style’’) smelled more like Parm than Kraft’s regular version. No idea why.

But taste? There was none. And to accentuate the tastelessness of it, the stuff also was dry and grainy. Not worth eating.



Kraft bills the product as containing no fillers, which they helpfully explain means ‘‘we use only real Parmesan cheese, not imitations or substitutes.’’ Perhaps they should have. While marginally better than the reduced-fat version, it’s a narrow margin.

And while less grainy, it still was sawdust dry. Not what I want in a cheese.

No clue either on the can or the company’s Web site how long the Parmesan used in this product is aged. They do, however, twice on the can say that South Beach dieting is all over Kraft Parmesan cheese.



Sure, this skews a true apples-to-apples approach, but since this product is sold alongside the Kraft stuff, it’s obviously a competitor, so I added it to the test.

The Colonna folks note on the label that they blend grated Parm (aged 10 months) and grated Romano (aged 5 months). But any lactose intolerant folks considering snorting this stuff should note the label warning — CONTAINS MILK PRODUCTS.


Despite dipping into stupendously obvious territory, the Colonna cheese was vastly better than either Kraft product. The taste was stronger and the texture was much less grainy, though it did have an oddly sweet smell and slight aftertaste.

It’s not clear whether the superior taste came from the addition of the Romano (usually called Pecorino Romano), of if Colonna just uses better cheese.


BRAND X SHREDDED PARMESAN (sold in bags like pizza topping)

I bought the no-name brand, but plenty of companies sell this stuff. In theory, this should be much better than the powdered stuff, as it is minimally processed. It brags of being aged ‘‘over 10 months.’’ But it mustn’t be much over, else they would brag that it was aged ‘‘over 11 months’’ or ‘‘a year.’’

We found it to have a cloying taste and a plastic mouth feel. I’ll grate my own, thanks.



This is the domestic Parm. And they are proud of it. ‘‘Classic Italian cheeses made in the U.S.A.’’ They also called it the ‘‘King of Italian Cheeses,’’ which has been aged 10 months.

When they’re talking about king, I’m guessing they mean Parmesan in general and not their product. Otherwise, this king isn’t long for the throne. It wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t good.

If you were looking for something to grate over pasta and didn’t want to use something from a can (and I can’t imagine why you would), AND you wanted to save some cash, this cheese would be fine. But eating it on its own? No way.



I went to my local cheese shop, where the owner just that morning had cracked a new wheel of imported 2-year-old Parmesan. Eaten on its own, it was rich and savory in ways the other cheeses couldn’t dream of being.

Grated over pasta, this cheese melted nicely, coating the pasta rather than drying it out as the first four cheeses had. This is the sort of cheese that transports you, makes you look for your glass of Chianti and forget about life.

Of course, it comes at a price. I paid $11.95 total for the first five cheeses, including the block of domestic Parmesan. I paid $12.95 a pound (or $20 for my block) for the real stuff.

It was so worth it. This is not cheese you swill down on pizza. This is cheese you savor and enjoy. For swilling, go domestic. It will add a nice touch, though it won’t have the punch of the good stuff.


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