This blog post by Veronique Kherian of Miss Cheesemonger, is part of a series promoting delicious Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano Night, a virtual global dinner party happening on October 25. For more information, please visit Parmesan.com.
Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of cheeses. It’s big on flavor, versatility, and, well, it’s just big. The ability to break down one of those massive 85 pound wheels had been, for me, one sign of a “real” cheesemonger. And because I hadn’t done it, even after working with and writing about cheese for years, I was feeling kind of left out of the cheesemonger circle.
Then, one day, that opportunity arrived. A pristine wheel arrived at the shop where I was working. The supervisor called me over. “Have you ever broken down a Parm wheel? No? Well, you’re doing it now.” I stepped over to the cheese sitting innocuously on a corner table. I looked at it. It looked at me (no, not really).
The tools of the trade were pretty straightforward: a hooked knife to score the tough rind, a longer knife with a flat tip resembling a large screwdriver, and a plump almond-shaped knife. I got to work with great gusto, which is the only way to handle a cheese that weighs as much as a dishwasher. First, I scored the rind all the way around, and flipped the wheel over by clumsily heaving it against the wall with my shoulder, then pushing it up and over to the other side with a thunderous clatter. According to my colleagues, that was the hard part. Personally, I found the hard part to come next, which involved repeatedly stabbing the almond-shaped knife into the cheese’s corners, as though engaged in some violent, ritualistic virgin cheese sacrifice. By the time I got to the 2nd of four corners, I could feel a fine sheen of sweat along my back. Luckily, things were (relatively) smooth sailing from there. After breaking open the first two corners, I could work my long screwdriver-like knife along the cracks with sharp thrusting and jimmying motions to coax the cheese to break open along its natural weak points. After maybe 20 minutes, I had done it. The wheel was halved, and I could sit back and admire my handiwork before continuing the breakdown.
What’s the best part of opening a wheel of parmesan? The smell. That glorious, savory perfume that wafts through the entire room as the cheese cracks open. There’s nothing better; I almost prefer the first smell to the first taste. That said, freshly cut parmesan has a nice snap to its granular texture that dulls slightly with time.
You don’t have to break down entire wheels of Parmigiano to show your love for this cheese, though! If you love Parmigiano (and really, who doesn’t?), be sure to celebrate Parmigiano Reggiano Night on October 25 using the free Parmigiano Reggiano App. This app will allow you to be part of a global dinner party celebrating the king of cheese. Don’t miss out on the fun, sign up for the app right now!
**Veronique blogs about cheese and food at Miss Cheesemonger, and slings cheese at Cowgirl Creamery.