The Seattle Cheese Festival began today with a seminar on Parmigiano-Reggiano, the pedigreed cheese commonly referred to as "Parmesan."
Most other Italian cheeses have names (Pecorino Sardo, Assiago) that are purely descriptive. The name Parmigiano-Reggiano means that the cheese has been made under the scrutiny of a regional cheese board that sets forth standards for everything from the care and feeding of the cows to the processing and aging of the cheeses themselves.
Selling in this country for prices between $10 and $20 a pound, the Parmigiano-Reggiano is marked on the rind with distinctive stamps that indicate its origin, its pedigree, and its age. Wheels of the cheese that have not passed the regional inspection can still be sold as grating cheese, but not under the coveted Parmigiano-Reggiano name. (These second-rate cheeses are scored along the rind so they can't be passed off as the true Parmigiano-Reggiano.)
Seminar attendees got to sample four freshly cut Parmigiano-Reggianos, shown in the photo: a two-year, a five-year, an organic version, and a Vache Rossa (red cow). The last is made with the milk of the red cow breed that provided the milk for the original Parmigiano-Reggiano. A vastly more productive Swiss cow is now used, but some artisanal cheese makers are returning to the red cows' milk. It has a higher protein content, and yields a more complex cheese that can be aged past five years.
(You'd think that after this presentation I'd have rushed off to make Aromatic Tagliatelle with Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, but, no, I bought some fresh cod at the Market and cooked it in olive oil with lots of garlic. Should have made the Tagliatelle instead. Or maybe the Parmigiano-Reggiano Chocolate Bon Bons.)
The festival runs through this weekend at the Pike Place Market. Look for cooking demos at DeLaurenti Speciality Food and Wine, which carries all the Parmigiano-Reggianos served at the seminar. I recommend the organic and the Vache Rossa.