There's more to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese than you may have considered. While delicious grated over pasta, it also can be served on its own or paired with other flavors to help liven up the table at a party.
Keep in mind not every cheese labeled "parmesan" is the real deal, as only cheese hailing from one area in Northern Italy and aged at least 12 months can bear the name Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Here are five essential steps from the experts at Whole Foods Market for entertaining with this intense, complex cheese:
•Prepare: Allow the Parmigiano-Reggiano to come to room temperature. Cut it into small irregular chunks for nibbling, paper-thin slivers or tiny bite-size cubes.
•Serve: Place portions of Parmigiano-Reggiano on individual plates with a selection of the suggested pairings below. Add warm, crusty bread for a more substantial course.
•Taste: Let the cheese melt on your tongue and savor the nuances. Enjoy its delightful range of tastes: nutty, sweet, grassy, creamy and fruity. The lovely, subtle crunch is from the protein crystals that form during the aging process.
•Pair: Highlight Parmigiano-Reggiano's subtle bite, creaminess and sweetness with pears, balsamic vinegar, honey, walnuts, Chianti, figs or hazelnuts.
•Store: Buy pieces that will last you no more than two weeks. Keep wedges tightly wrapped in parchment paper or aluminum foil. Store it in the cheese or veggie drawer of your refrigerator (40 degrees F); freezing compromises its subtle nuances.
The next time you entertain, use this recipe for Parmigiano-Reggiano party mix, a nice combination of salty and sweet.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread almonds on a large-rimmed baking sheet and toast until crisp and golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, spread hazelnuts on a separate large-rimmed baking sheet and toast until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Wrap hazelnuts in a clean dishtowel and rub them together to remove skins. Set nuts aside until cool enough to handle.
In a large bowl, combine almonds, hazelnuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano, apricots, figs and prunes and toss. Keep at room temperature in a cool, dark place for up to three days or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
More cooking tips and recipes can be found at www.WholeFoodsMarket.com.
For true cheese lovers, there are few experiences that match the pleasure of savoring a perfectly aged, fresh-cut sliver of Parmigiano-Reggiano.