Parmigiano Reggiano Academy Teaches the Art of Cheese Tasting

The Parmigiano Reggiano Academy was originally created as an on-line tasting course, but is now being held in specialty stores across the U.S. We were invited to attend the Atlanta Academy at the Cook’s Warehouse hosted by the U.S. Information Office of Parmigiano Reggiano. As academy students, we tasted three ages of Italy's most famous cheese (14-, 24- and 36-month) and discussed different uses and wine pairings.

The tasting lesson was an intimate sit-down sensory analysis led by a Parmigiano Reggiano expert who challenged us to experience the structure, look, aroma and taste in a series of exercises designed to highlight the changes in the raw milk cheese as it ages. We first looked closely at the cheese, looking for variations in color and textural changes. The 14-month cheese was lighter in color and more opaque, while the 36-month cheese was darker, denser and showed visible signs of protein crystallization. Next we broke pieces of the cheese to feel the textural nuances such as oiliness, elasticity and friability.

The 14-month cheese broke easily, was powdery and less oily, while the 36-month old cheese was harder to break, and was far more crumbly and oily. We then inhaled the aroma and categorized the aromas as lactic, vegetal, floral, fruit, toasted, animal, or spicy. The younger cheese smelled milky and floral, while the older cheese smelled pungent, lactic and slightly animal. Lastly, we enjoyed the sensations of sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami flavor on the tongue for each of the three ages of Parmigiano Reggiano. The 14-month cheese tasted mild, sweet and creamy, while the 36-month cheese was more harsh, tangy, salty and sharp.

We were treated to a variety of appetizers prepared by Chef Costanzo Astarita, executive chef of Baraonda, Publik Draft House, and Fig Jam. The appetizers highlighted Parmigiano Reggiano at various stages n the aging process. For example, ricotta and butternut squash agnolotti was topped with a froth made with the 14-month aged cheese, while Roman gnocchi with lamb ragu was prepared using the 36-month cheese.

A gelato made with the 24-month Parmigiano Reggiano and drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar was a true testament to the cheese’s versatility. Platters of gorgeous charcuterie (prosciutto, speck, salami) along with an array of sauces (fig preserves, sorghum syrup, truffle honey) were set out to allow students to sample with the 3 different ages of Parmigiano Reggiano. Don Hackett of Sherlock's Wine Merchant was on hand to pair several amazing Italian varietals (Barbera, Brunello, Sangiovese) with the cheeses as well.

Nancy Radke, Director of the U.S. Information Office of Parmigiano Reggiano addressed the group shaing that Parmigiano Reggiano Academy is the result of 20 years of research conducted by Dr. Mario Zanoni and many other EU scientists working in the area of sensory analysis of cheese. Using models developed in the wine industry, they have come to understand vital sensory cues people use when they encounter a piece of cheese.

The goal is that by the end of 2014, the Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano, the quality control and marketing board for, will have introduced thousands of consumers to the art of cheese tasting not just for Parmigiano Reggiano, but for other types of cheeses as well. She also asked students to join in the fastest growing global virtual dinner party #DinnerTogether which will be held this year on Saturday, October 25th. For more information, please visit Parmesan.com.

As we were departing, we were all given goodie bags with Academy supplies and plenty of cheese to share our newly acquired knowledge with others! So, we are giving away TWO (2) Parmigiano Reggiano Tasting Kits with a cheese tasting wheel (inside a plate which doubles as a Frisbee), samples of 14-month, 24-month and 36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano, a special almond-shaped cheese knife, a copy of “The Seasons of Parmigiano Reggiano” cookbook and other informational materials. Enter below to become a Parmesan Cheese-tasting Expert too!


Photos by Erik Meadows Photography
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