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Parmesan CheeseParmigiano Reggiano is the king of cheeses. Its nutritional content makes it a wholesome food - highly digestible and versatile. A sprinkling of Parmigiano is good on anything. It is used in cooking for lasagna alla bolognese, inside tortellini stuffing, to flavor omelets and to create a really tasty soufflé.

Shaved Parmigiano is used to garnish paper-thin slices of beef called carpaccio or to lend body and protein to tossed salads.This most particular cheese is a veritable symbol of Italy throughout the world. It is a light, easily digestible, nutritious food.

It is produced in limited areas of the Emilia-Romagna region, while the same cheese produced in other regions, namely Lombardy, is called Grana Padano.

The milk from which it is produced is strictly controlled by a regulatory board which guarantees its quality. Producers must adhere to strict processing and aging procedures.

The most superior cheeses are made between April first through the middle of November. There are three age categories for Parmigiano. The term nuovo indicates cheeses aged less than one year, vecchio identifies those aged between 18 to 24 months and stravecchio those aged from 34 to 36 months. The older, the better.

A standard wheel of Parmigiano weighs around 35 kilograms. The production process is long and complex, originating in the old 'cascine' where the 'casaro' puts in long hours seeing his product through the various stages from milk to its emergence as Parmigiano Reggiano.

The true product can be recognized by a series of dots stamped into the rind, marking the wheel. This fine cheese can be enjoyed in many ways: chipped, over pasta, melted in risotto, in lasagna, in savory pies. Parmigiano is best preserved in the refrigerator wrapped in cheesecloth or a paper towel.

This item was contributed by Shirley Cline from San Fransisco.

Shirley was a great inspiration when I first started working on the idea of creating a recipe and cooking web site. Not only did she encourage me but she also supplied a great many recipes and other pieces which are featured throughout the site. Her great achievement was to teach me to cook risotto over the internet!

Although I never had the chance to meet Shirley, or even talk to her, I regarded her as a good friend. It was with great sadness that I learnt that she passed away in Autumn 2004 and that there would be no more emails. I think she will be sadly missed by a lot of people like me to whom she gave such pleasure with the sharing or her recipes. The pleasure my children have had from her recipe for Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar and Mint - not to mention the fights for seconds - has been a joy to behold.