Buy Parmesan by the piece and skip the wood pulp

When I was young, I hated Parmesan cheese. Or at least, I thought it was Parmesan cheese. It came in a can and was found on the supermarket store shelf – not the refrigerated section. The smell was absolutely horrible to me. As I got older, I graduated to almost liking the grated stuff that was refrigerated in the supermarket but I actually only used it in recipes that called for grated Parmesan. And then one day, I tried the real thing: freshly grated Parmesan and I wondered about all those other products.

But the real love affair started when I tasted Parmigiano Reggiano, the Parmesan cheese from Emilia Romagna in Italy (the name is protected and can only be used by the cheeses from this region). I could eat this cheese naked by the piece. Better yet, I loved it with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar. It was something I needed to restrain myself from eating more (and still is).

So when I heard the news today about grated Parmesan cheese being adulterated, I wasn’t surprised. But I didn’t expect what I had read. According to news reports, agents of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration paid a surprise visit to a cheese factory in rural Pennsylvania in November, 2012. They found the company (a major supplier across the country) was doctoring its 100 percent real parmesan with cheaper cheeses and using fillers such as wood pulp.

The wood pulp I didn’t expect but the use of cheaper cheeses was not a surprise to me. I always wondered how much in the way of rind was included.

In my nutrition counselling practice, purchasing pieces of Parmesan versus grated cheese is a topic I’ve often talked about. Just a little freshly grated Parmesan can elevate the taste of many a dish. It doesn’t take much but wow the taste difference can be amazing in all kinds of dishes – soups, pasta, sauces, salads and more. It may be much more expensive (now we know why!) but a little goes a long way. For maximum flavour, I always call for freshly grated Parmesan in my recipes.

Now if you’ve bought a piece and are only using a little at a time, proper storage is key. While the folks in Italy recommend storing it in plastic, if you’re only using a small amount at a time, you might try another method. Wrap the piece in wax paper and then in foil. If it drys out, here’s a nifty tip you can use on any pieces of cheese that have dried out. Wrap the cheese in a moistened piece of cheesecloth, cover it with plastic and refrigerate it for 24 hours – no more. Then unwrap the cheese and voila, your cheese has been rejuvenated.

Better yet, though, try to buy small pieces if you’re only using a little at a time. And if you haven’t been a fan of Parmesan, buying a good quality one may convert you.

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Categories: Nutrition News, Tips and Tricks

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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