Like many people, I’ve always ignored the corner pieces of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese—in other words, those hunks with two sides of rind.
Are You Avoiding the Best Piece of Parmesan Cheese?
Instead, I hunt for a chunk with as little rind as possible. I want the largest amount of usable interior. That way, I figure, I’m getting the most for my money from this pricey cheese.
But apparently, I’ve been going about it all wrong. That’s because the corner pieces are actually the very best part of Parmigiano-Reggianno.
How do I know? The Cook’s Illustrated team conducted a blind taste test that proved it.
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We decided to test whether these areas closer to the rind tasted any different from cheese closer to the center. So we took samples from three locations on the same wheel of 18-month-old Parmigiano-Reggiano, and compared them in a blind tasting.
Tasters were clear in their preferences.
The sample taken from the center of the wheel ranked third and was often described as “clean-tasting,” with a “smoother,” “plasticky” texture. In other words, good but not superlative.
The core sample taken between the middle and the edge landed in second place and was described, fittingly, as “middle-of-the-road” in terms of both flavor and texture.
But the cheese sample taken from the area closest to the rind earned near-unanimous support for its “nutty,” “complex,” “sharp” flavor and “pleasantly crumbly” texture—and came in first.
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Why Is the Outside Edge of Real Parmesan Best?
So why is it so tasty? When cheese ages, it undergoes a complex process called proteolysis that affects its texture, melting qualities, and flavor. Proteolysis works from the outside in.
So the outer portions of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese show more of the telltale signs of advanced aging—a dry, crumbly texture; a deep, complex flavor; and a high proportion of tyrosine crystals.
An abundance of amino acid crystals correlated with tasters’ preferences. Cheese closest to the rind averaged 20 crystals per 10 grams of cheese, while cheese from the center averaged fewer than 9 crystals per 10 grams.
In the future, don’t be afraid to reach for the corner pieces— if you don't, you’ll actually be passing over the most delicious part of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
And don’t fear the “waste” of an edge. There are plenty of uses for this Parmesan part to add flavor, like simmering in soups or bolstering braises.