It's possible that the secret for making Italian food that tastes authentic is in the cheese.
Parmigiano Reggiano is made in the Emilia-Romagna region and provides the sharp, rich flavor that American cooks may try to emulate in their sauces and Italian dishes. The problem is that most Parmesan cheese sold in the United States is not considered authentic by the Italian government, which has convinced the European Union to require labeling as such. The American government has not followed suit.
Authenticity Determined by Government Inspectors
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is produced from a method that goes back eight centuries governed by strict standards regarding how cows are raised and produced, what is allowed to be in the cheese, and the process of manufacturing and maturing the cheese.
Parmigiano Reggiano is made exclusively in the povinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Modena and Mantua.
Only three ingredients—milk, salt and rennet can be used. Imitation parmesan often contains fillers such as cellulose.
The cows must be fed all natural foods such as hay and natural grass to produce the grass-fed milk that goes into the cheese. Any cows that become sick or are given antibiotics of any sort are removed from the process so as to not affect the quality of the milk, and therefore, the cheese itself.
Its aging process is a minimum of one year, and in some cases, may be matured for 18-24 months. Then each cheese wheel is checked for quality by inspectors before being marketed. The texture, smell and color are all analyzed to determine whether it can be sold with the label on the rind that's stamped Parmigiano Reggiano.
That's how you can tell if it's authentic.
Visiting the Parmigiano Reggiano Dairies
In Italy, you can tour several dairy farms where the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is made. You'll learn about one of the most important aspects of culture in this region and why the Italians so fiercely guard the Parmigiano Reggiano label. If you want to visit one of the many factories in the area, make sure you contact the dairy farm in advance for reservations, especially during peak season when these tours are very popular.