I didn't know there was a difference between Parmesan vs Parmigiano until I started going to this cheese bar in Denver. The more I went, the more I wanted to learn about cheese in general. While scrolling through Facebook one day, I came across this video that featured a cheese expert trying unlabeled cheeses to try and identify them.

Parmesan and Parmigiano were in the video, and this is when I learned that—surprise!—there actually is a pretty big difference between Parmesan and Parmigiano. Here's your guide to distinguishing these two kinds of cheese to help put an end to your cheese counter debate of Parmesan vs Parmigiano.

How They're Similar

spaghetti, pasta, basil, sauce, macaroni, vegetable
Shun Matsuhashi

Both kinds of cheese are made in a similar way. They both start out with cow's milk, but the regulations on the milk are specific to each cheese. Parmesan can have any type of cow's milk, but Parmigiano has to use whole, unpasteurized milk. The milk is then left to sit for multiple hours. After sitting for a while, a layer of fat develops over the top. This fat is skimmed off of the milk, which is then heated and a few key ingredients are added to make it curdle.

About an hour later, the cheesemaker scoops the curds out of the milk vat. The curds are then drained and pressed into the cheese molds. At this step is where the two kinds of cheese become incredibly different.

What Is Parmesan? 

dairy product, cheese, milk, parmesan
Amy Le

The main difference is that American Parmesan is not as regulated as Parmigiano. It can be made anywhere and there aren't any nearly as many regulations about the milk or on how long it's aged. After the curds are drained and placed into molds, the cheese has to sit for a few days to firm up. From here, the Parmesan is aged in plastic for at least 8 months.

This being said, Parmesan is usually softer and creamier. It doesn't have any protein crystals in it (those little white spots that are kind of crunchy), and it often doesn't have a rind. Parmesan is milder than Parmigiano and usually tastes a little sweet.

What Is Parmigiano?

dairy product, milk, cheese, dairy, cheddar, butter, parmesan
Ally Tobler

Cheeses are named after the places they come from, so there can only be one Parmigiano-Reggiano and it can only come from the Parma region in northern Italy. The cheese is required by law to have only three ingredients: cow's milk, salt, and rennet (a special enzyme). The curds, after being drained, are pressed into a special mold with "Parmigiano-Reggiano" stamped into the rind. Once the cheese is firm enough, it soaks in a brine solution for 20 days. The Parmigiano then has to be aged at least 18 months in the open air

This being said, Parmigiano is a harder cheese and is darker yellow in color. It also has little protein crystals in that develop as the cheese ages. Parmigiano is more earthy tasting and packs a lot more punch than Parmesan. 

Parmesan vs Parmigiano

milk, cheese, dairy product, parmesan, bread
Aren Salazar

When it comes to choosing which one you want to pick up in the grocery store, it really comes down to what you prefer. Parmesan is more budget-friendly and usually about half of the price of Parmigiano. However, if you're making a recipe, like this arugula Parmesan salad where you really want the flavor of the cheese to shine, I'd recommend going with the classic Parmigiano. Now that you know how to identify the differences between these two cheeses, get out there and show off your new cheese knowledge!