Made from the milk of specially-fed cows and aged for an average of two years, authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano is richer and nuttier than anything you’ve ever tasted. The mecca for Parmigiano is Parma, Italy (not coincidentally, also the pinnacle of prosciutto-making), where cheesemakers adhere to stringent rules, and the results vindicate their commitment. Italians consume a staggering 86 percent of the 3 million wheels produced every year, and the stuff is so valuable that when Italian banks lend money to cheesemakers, they hold their 80-pound wheels as collateral in temperature-controlled vaults. At about $16 a pound, it’s definitely pricey, but an affordable six-ounce wedge goes a long way. To get the most cheese for your buck, look for center cuts, and stay away from pieces that have disproportionate amounts of rind, since you’re paying for that weight as well.
To ensure authenticity, look for fragments of the words “Parmigiano-Reggiano” stamped into the rind of every wheel produced by members of the Consorzio del Formaggio. To fully appreciate Parmigiano’s distinctive qualities, crumble a block into nuggets to nibble alongside a glass of hearty Italian red wine or bubbly prosecco. If you really want to go big, drizzle the nuggets with some truffle oil and honey, then dust them with freshly cracked black pepper.