Tracing the History of the Well-Loved Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan is one of the world’s best-loved cheese types. It is classified as a hard cheese that breaks into uneven chunks of healthy goodness, featuring varied flavor accents described as salty, milky and nutty. It also has a long history, over 800 years of virtually unchanged processes that give us the cheese we have come to know and love today.

Read on to know more about how your favorite cheese came to be, from its earliest beginnings to other interesting facts that surround it.

parmesan history

Italy – the birthplace of the cheese

Records from Benedictine monks indicate the existence of this type of cheese over eight centuries ago, and it was the monks around Parma who first made this distinctive hard cheese around the Middle Ages. The people in the nobility then began to produce it for their own consumption by the Renaissance period. It was then called in Latin as caseum paramensis, shortened to Pramsàn by locals. By the 1300s, the cheese began to go over Tuscany to be traded to other ports in the Mediterranean.

The name “parmesan”

In the 16th century, the Italian nobility began to call it Parmesano, which indicates its place of origin as Parma. The contemporary French court then shortened it to the name parmesan. Guests from Parma often gave it as a gift to the French, who developed a special fondness for the cheese. So it was that the cheese came to be called as we know it today, parmesan.

From then on, the cheese continued to be known by the name in the following centuries, helped along by the close relationship between the noble French and the Italian dukes of Parma. It was only a matter of time until the name spread and took root beyond France as well, leading up to the wide usage of the term today.

Standardized cheese-making process

While parmesan means “from or of Parma” in French, the same meaning in Italian is denoted by Parmigiano. Reggiano is the term used by those closer to Reggio than Parma. The full name Parmigiano Reggiano became widely used only by the 1800s and 1900s, following the cultural unification of Italy.

The Consortium, or the Consorzio del Grana Tipico, which still manages and inspects parmesan production today, was first created in 1934. It was formed by cheese producers from Parma and Reggio, along with other provinces, to standardize the process in making the cheese.

Parmigiano Reggiano

The group of cheese-makers decided to rename their alliance as Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano in the 1950s. This effectively gave tribute to the cheese producers in Parma and Reggio and the role they had in parmesan production. With the official name came the solid characterization of the cheese and the methods involved in making it.

The official name was used for authenticity by marking cheese wheels with pin dots to indicate it. The consortium follows strict production guidelines, working to produce parmesan as it has always been for centuries.

Parmesan’s history is as illuminating as the flavorful elements that make this type of cheese so popular. This is why this wonderfully sumptuous cheese has stayed in the hearts – and palates – of people for many centuries.