Who Invented Parmesan Cheese?

Parmesan Cheese is my favorite cheese. I buy it in quantity from Italy because I eat a lot of it, and it’s weirdly cheaper for me than buying a small package at the supermarket here in France. Recently, as I was searching for recipes to find a way to add more Parmesan cheese to my diet, I went looking into its history.

Who Created Parmesan Cheese?

Parmigiano Reggiano (the original name of Parmesan cheese) first appeared in the area surrounding the Italian cities of Parma and Reggio Emilia, during the Middle Ages. To preserve the excess milk they were producing at the time, Benedictine monks who lived in this region invented the cheese.

These monks started making a particular hard cheese from cow’s milk, which they turned into big wheels and left to mature for a long time. The cheese’s distinctive flavor and granular texture are a result of the aging process, which is still in place today. This makes it one of the most coveted Italian grana cheeses.

According to the writings of Giovanni Boccaccio, who immortalized the cheese in his literary work, The Decameron, Parmigiano Reggiano has a reputation for being of exceptionally high quality that dates back to at least the 14th century.

Bibbiano, a small village in the Reggio Emilia region that is adjacent to Parma, is where the cheese originated, but due to historical and commercial relationships, Parma has come to be identified with it. The Duchy of Parma ruled over Parma and Reggio Emilia during the Middle Ages, and it was in this area that much of the cheese trade occurred.

Parmigiano-Reggiano, Italian ad from 1991

Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan

Due to the continuous close ties between the Dukes of Parma and the French nobles, the appellation “Parmesano” rose to prominence–before abbreviating it to “Parmesan”–from the 17th to the 19th century. Recognizing the nutritional benefits and ease of digestion of parmesan cheese, renowned playwright Molière even adopted a fad diet centered on port wine and parmesan cheese.

To regulate the manufacturing of their cheeses, producers from Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena, and Mantua established the Consorzio del Grana Tipico in 1934. By working together, the organization was renamed Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano, so formally establishing “Parmigiano Reggiano” as the name of the cheese. Along with upholding stringent production standards, the consortium collaborated to market and defend Parmigiano Reggiano against copycats.

Parmigiano Reggiano gained a reputation throughout the ages and transcended national boundaries, becoming well-known outside of Italy. The Stresa Convention ensures that only cheese produced in the regions of Parma and Reggio Emilia, adhering to traditional practices, can bear the name Parmigiano Reggiano.

If you’re interested in food history, I wrote about the invention of chocolatePizza, Buffalo Wings, and more.

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