Knowing the Difference Between Parmesan and Parmigiano

There really is nothing better than cheese. And the best thing about cheese is that there are so many different types to choose from. From soft cheese to hard cheese to mature and mild cheese, there are lots of different options, and because of this, you can find a cheese to pair with pretty much any meal. 

parmigiano cheese in a window display

Parmesan and Parmigiano are both hard cheeses made with cow milk, and they are perfect for pairing with Italian dishes. On carbonara or bolognese, both of these cheeses are outstanding, but despite common disbelief, they aren’t actually the same. In this guide, we’ll be looking at both Parmesan and Parmigiano to find out the similarities and differences between these cheeses. 

What is Parmesan?

Of these two kinds of cheese, you are most likely to have heard of Parmesan. Parmesan is an Italian cheese that is produced using milk that is taken from a cow. It is a very hard cheese, and it is primarily shredded before being used.

freshly grated parmesan cheese

Unlike some other cheeses, such as cheddar and Gouda, Parmesan is rarely eaten on its own. Instead, it is usually served on top of dishes, usually Italian dishes. This makes sense when you think about the fact that Parmesan is produced in Italy. 

The name ‘Parmesan’ comes from the region of Italy where this cheese is made. Traditionally, it was produced in the region of Parma, but since then, production has expanded out to Modena, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, and Mantua. It has a gritty and tough texture which has both fruity and nutty undertones with a sour aspect too. It is pale yellow/white, and even once it is shredded, it still looks like hard cheese. But, it is totally delicious and authentically Italian. 

What is Parmigiano?

On the surface, Parmigiano-Reggiano seems to be very similar to Parmesan cheese, and that is because it is. Just like Parmesan, Parmigiano-Reggiano is a dry and hard cheese of Italian origin.

Just like Parmesan, it is produced using cow’s milk, and it is primarily served on top of Italian dishes, such as lasagna and rigatoni. Usually, Parmigiano is produced using semi or fully skimmed cow’s milk, and this is what allows it to achieve such a unique flavor and texture. 

Just like Parmesan, Parmigiano gets its name from the area of Italy where it is produced. As the similarities in their names suggest, Parmigiano is produced in similar areas to Parmesan, including Parma, Reggio Emilia, and Modena.

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fresh parmigiano cheese

Parmigiano is a lot more colorful than Parmesan, with a brighter yellow tint to it, rather than a pale appearance. This is partly because Parmigiano is served with the rind still on it. So now that we’ve taken a look at both of these cheeses, let’s compare them. 

How Are They Similar?

Now that we have a clear knowledge of both Parmesan and Parmigiano, let’s take a look at the similarities of these cheeses. As we have established, they are actually pretty similar to each other, so let’s dive right in. 

Here are some of the key similarities between Parmesan and Parmigiano:

  • Both Parmesan and Parmigiano have a similar flavor, including nutty and fruity undertones. 
  • Once grated/shredded, Parmesan and Parmigiano have a similar texture to one another, they are both hard and gritty. 
  • Parmesan and Parmigiano are both Italian cheeses, and they are created in similar areas of Italy, this means that they are often used interchangeably to season Italian dishes.
  • Both Parmigiano and Parmesan are created using either fully or semi-skimmed cow’s milk. 
  • Both of these cheeses are usually left to age for around 2 years before being sold to the market. 

So, as you can see, there are lots of ways in which Parmesan and Parmigiano are similar to one another. In fact, these cheeses are so similar that in Italy they are considered to be the same. In Italy, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) laws preserve the integrity of Italian foods, including cheeses. 

Under DOC laws, Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano are considered to be so similar that they have to be categorized as the same cheese. But, outside of Italy, these cheeses are firmly cemented as two different options. So, let’s take a look at what makes them different from each other. 

How Are They Different?

Despite all the similarities between Parmesan and Parmigiano cheese, there are some pretty major differences between the two. So let’s take a look at what they are. 

Well, the first major difference between Parmigiano and Parmesan is their presentation upon sale. Parmigiano is usually sold in large circular rinds, with the rind of the cheese still upon it. You must cut it before shredding it.

wheels of parmigiano cheese on shelves

Whereas, Parmesan is usually sold in wedges with the rind removed. This means that you can easily grate the wedge without having to cut it. The lack of rind in Parmesan is what gives this a lighter appearance than Parmigiano. 

But, this isn’t the biggest difference between the two. The main difference between Parmesan and Parmigiano is the price. Outside of Italy, it is generally accepted that Parmigiano is the real deal when it comes to this style of cheese, whereas Parmesan is simply seen as a cheaper alternative. Parmesan can also be produced outside of Italy, whereas Parmigiano-Reggiano cannot. So, you will often find that Parmigiano is significantly more expensive than Parmesan. 

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Which is Better?

The differences between these cheeses seemingly imply that Parmigiano is better than Parmesan, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Just because Parmigiano carries a heavier price tag, this doesn’t mean that it is better.

Which cheese is best will totally depend on what you are looking for. If you want authenticity, then Parmigiano will be the best, but if you simply want a cheaper version then Parmesan is the cheese for you!

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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