Shelf Life. Your Ultimate Food Court Is Now In Session. Your Ultimate Food Court Is Now In Session.


By amy • • Feb 6th, 2016 • Category: Cheese, Columns, Dairy, Pantry Items

Take that, disrupters. It is safe to say that the august organization Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano is not interested in shiny new business ventures. The regulator’s chief function is to ensure that Italy’s King Of Cheeses is made in the same way using the same methods in the same places without deviation, by law. Because the Consorzio is the upholder of an eight-century tradition, it is not interested in outside-the-box cheeses, shared-economy cheeses, or cheeses with showstopping personalities. The whole point of P-R is its rigorously imposed uniformity. Every wheel is closely examined. One cheese should taste like the other.

There is no cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano on earth (and no dairy product with a higher umami content). It starts with only two breeds of cow, which are fed solely on local vegetation entirely free from antibiotics or other additives. The cows are contented residents of 450-odd artisanal farms, located in the provinces west of the Reno River and east of the Po. The partly skimmed unpasteurized milk undergoes an exacting cheese-making process, complete with a special inspector called a drummer, who taps the 80 pound wheels – and only 80 pound wheels; Parmigiano-Reggiano is not produced in any other format – with a special rubber mallet, checking for disqualifiers such as air pockets. The ingredients are confined to milk, salt, and rennet. At the required maturity levels – at least 18 months for exported product; 22 months; and 30 months – each cheese is numbered, registered, and embossed. A Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is the very definition of quality control.

Which makes things interesting for would-be taste testers. Given such codified production, there should be minimal – if any – real differences among these cheeses. In Shelf Life’s experience however, all artisanal products, in the words of guest judge Brad Long, “show the human hand at work.” And there’s another, immediate question: what effect does plastic wrap have on a cheese that is – in a food sense anyway – alive?

Musing, Jeff Goldblum style, that “nature will find a way”, are this week’s guest judges: former restaurateur Nanci Giovinazzo, currently a restaurant consultant; chef Brad Long, chief owner Café Belong; and Angelo Tramonti, certified olive oil taster and President of importers Sarafino Inc., all in Toronto. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every product in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste tested and awarded between zero and five stars.

Brand One

0.258kg, $12.87
widely available
for more information visit

Nanci: Brand One is unusual looking – conventional Parmigiano-Reggiano comes in shades of yellow, but this one has a pink hue. And it’s not as crumbly as Parm should be. But I kind of like the taste. This cheese has a nice milky finish with a bit of spice in the middle.

Brad: I thought I would hate this one because of its weird orange-pink appearance, but it’s super sweet, and you can’t go wrong with that. Plus I like the balanced salt and the little catch of acid at the back of my throat. I dunno what those cows are eating to produce such sweetness, but I’d finish my risotto with Brand One.

Angelo: There’s a reddish tinge to Brand One, and the texture is on the creamy side. I’m getting a fruity-hay smell, and milkiness. The taste is cheesy, sweet, and balanced, with a little heat-type spice near the end.

Brand One Total ELEVEN STARS ***********

Brand Two

Tre Stella
200g, $11.99
widely available
for more information visit

Nanci: At first bite Brand Two is confusing; it gives off different signals. It smells good, but the texture is waxy. And there’s a strange taste – kind of like meat. It’s a mineral thing – maybe iron? Having said that, I don’t mind it.

Brad: Call me freakin’ odd, but I’m tasting – roast beef. Not the fat but the flesh. I wouldn’t say that this cheese sucks, but it’s remarkable. The good news is: the strangeness is not overwhelming – you’re still in the realm of happy parmigiano-reggiano with Brand Two.

Angelo: It looks like a regular Parmigiano-Reggiano, but I agree, there are aspects that are not standard. The texture is chalky and chewy, with a slight crumble. It smells mild and earthy. And the taste – some kind of mineral quality, and bitterness.

Brand Two Total SEVEN STARS *******

Brand Three

0.296kg, $12.81
widely available

Nanci: There’s a classic nutty, grassy quality here, and it comes on very strong. There’s that thing you sometimes get with Parm – it’s a bit reminiscent of beat-up sneakers. So it’s very funky. Sharp taste, mild smell, pronounced depth of flavour.

Brad: It’s got a milky sweet smell with a little heat, and there are big crunchy crystals all over the place. There’s a strong, rolling finish at the end which totally wins me over. I’d love a glass of red wine with Brand Three, but then I always want a glass of red wine.

Angelo: To me it smells like straw and fruit, very pleasant. Nice appearance as well: creamy and pale, with a crunchy, salty, dry texture. Brand Three has a distinct taste: grassy, nutty, and spicy, also some bitterness.

Brand Three Total TWELVE STARS ************

Brand Four

President’s Choice Black Label
0.248kg, $12.38
available at Loblaws stores and wherever President’s Choice brand is sold
for more information visit

Nanci: All the tones and flavours you would expect from an iconic Parmigiano-Reggiano are here. Great taste and terrific texture, and I love the fact that the more I eat Brand Four the more pepper flavour I get. I think most people would adore this cheese.

Brad: Amazing depth – you eat a little bit and it just keeps going. Brand Four gives off a big burst of umami, all sweet grass and nuts plus an almost tannic element. This is the best thing on the table.

Angelo: Brand Four takes the cake. In my opinion it has greater range and complexity than the others. The colour is perfect, and the texture is right, creamy and salty and crunchy. This is a clean, rewarding cheese.

Brand Four Total: FOURTEEN AND A HALF STARS**************1/2

Results: President’s Choice Black Label Parmigiano-Reggiano took top honours, while the other brands had their merits.

Off The Menu: Congratulations to President’s Choice, but even as we’re enjoying this superb cheese we’re wondering about location, location, and location. With every Parmigiano-Reggiano, we’re assured of provenance, but then what? A Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese travels the world, and acquires a chain of buyers and labels. Wheels scatter. Our question: is the President’s Choice Black Label slice available in Toronto cut from the same wheel, or cache of wheels, than the PC Parmigiano-Reggiano in Edmonton? Ultimately, though, we’re fine with the mysteries of these biggest of cheeses, because, as they say, any P-R is good P-R.

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