The easiest way to make your Italian cooking more authentic, and better tasting, is to grate your own cheese just before serving. It sounds like such a chore, but mama, what rewards.
The first part is the hardest part: Paying $9 for a little chunk of brick-hard cheese in the Italian-foods department. It looks so underwhelming. Remember, it will last a long time and will explode with flavor every time you grate some.
You’ll need a grater. There are box ones, rotary ones with cranks, food processors, microplanes and electric shredders. The best one is the simplest one, a flat metal sheet with holes. It cuts instead of powders the cheese.
So why would this be better than opening a can of powdery Parmesan ground a few months ago in a factory? That stuff contains an anti-caking additive made of cellulose powder. But mostly, it’s been exposed to the air, and that’s the main flavor killer of grated cheese.
You can buy imported Italian hard cheeses with confidence. Their names and ingredients are strictly controlled in Italy to protect their reputations.
Italy’s amazing grating cheeses
Parmesan From the Parma region: No. 1 worldwide. Made from skimmed milk. More powerful versions combine goat and cow milks. Offers a salty, dairy taste released by the warmth of the food, a favorite for red pasta dishes and on pizza.
Parmigiano-Reggiano: In its own class, made from unpasteurized cow’s skimmed milk, sweeter than Parmesan, more fruity and unmistakably piquant. Grate on light dishes such as veal piccante, white-sauced pasta and on salads.
Zanetti Parmigiano Reggiano: The King of Cheeses and well known as the finest of its class. Italy’s most full-flavored hard cheese. You’ll pay for that.
Reggianito: Similar to the above but comes in small pieces, cured longer, stronger.
Romano: Made in a suburb of Rome since the time of Christ. The longer the aging, the better it is for grating. It is more delicate and complex than Parmesan and best used in dishes with subtle flavors such as primaveras or with seafood.
Pecorino: Offers varieties similar to above but all are made from sheep’s milk. Pecorino Romano is from Rome area, Pecorino Sardo from Sardinia, Pecorino Siciliano from Sicily, etc.: Pepato versions are spiked with ground peppercorns. Each is creamy, gaining sharpness as it ages. All are sharper than their namesakes.