Just recently in a class I was teaching at The Chopping Block, a question was asked about how to finish a risotto without parmesan. To which I responded, why wouldn’t you want to finish your risotto with parmesan?! I put Parmesan on everything from eggs in the morning, salads for lunch, a chuck with apples for a snack, and on top of veggies for dinner. Chef Ron even adds it to his Potatoes Anna.
It turns out that the student had a lactose intolerance, and she was concerned that by finishing her risotto with Parmesan she would feel ill. Luckily, I was prepared and had some shocking information for her:
Parmesan cheese is lactose free!
I know what you are thinking, how? Well, because of the way parmesan is made and aged; it is actually really an excellent cheese for a lactose intolerant person.
When I refer to Parmesan chese in this blog I am referring to the REAL DEAL Parmigiano-Reggiano. Not all parmesans are created equal. Much like Champagne can only come from the region of Champagne in France; Parmigiano-Reggiano is a specifically regulated and graded product of a specific region. Also know as PDO or DOP, which means, Protected Designation of Origin. The only regions that real Parmesan come from are Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna which are in the state of Emilia Romagna. The name itself comes from combining the names of the two biggest regional producers of the cheese! This regulation ensures that when the product is ready every wheel of Parmesan-Reggiano is up to the Consortium’s (the people who actually do the grading process) standards of excellence and it keeps things fairly consistent in the final product.
I was fortunate enough to be able to visit a Parmesan-Reggiano co-op while I was in Modena, Italy last year. Hands down one of the best trips in my life! This is where I had originally found out that Parmesan cheese was lactose free. So, I had a guided tour through the whole process from start to finish; from the moment the fresh cows milk was delivered to the factory early in the morning; to actually seeing the drying/aging process. They even let me tap on the cheese with the same mallet that the Consortium uses!
Not only is Parmesan cheese lactose-free but it has many other nutritional benefits as well. Because the cheese is aged a minimum of 12 months all of the water content is evaporated off thus creating a really concentrated cheese, meaning it is extremely high in calcium as well as proteins, phosphorus, and lipids. It is a completely natural food and that makes it easy to digest for just about everyone.
This cheese has been considered the king of cheese for over nine centuries for many reasons: it’s healthy, it’s delicious, and it’s plain to see that anything that takes this much time and care to make is definitely worth the price. Back in the day, Parmesan producers used to use wheels of Parmesan as dowries for marriages. That just proves the power of Parmesan cheese.
I'm especially looking forward to our upcoming Pasta Workshop class because the menu includes Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Lemon Herb Butter, Tomatoes and Parmesan. Yum!
If you have any questions about the cheese making process or just want some Parmesan recipes, I would love to hear from you!