Don’t take a bite until you’ve read what we have to say. 

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I've been eating Parmesan cheese my whole life, from the ubiquitous green shaky can that lived in the fridge my whole childhood, to the eventual tubs of grated and shredded that started to supplant them in my high school years, to the wedges of Parmigiano Reggiano that became my cheese drawer essential as a young cook in my first apartment. We are talking nearly five decades of eating this magical king of cheeses. 

So, imagine my shock when on a recent trip to Italy, I learned that I have been eating my Parmesan all wrong.

Yeah, I know. Mortifying.

The better way to eat Parmesan cheese

Europeans in general, but especially those with strong cheese production, have very specific ways they engage with their cheeses. If you are in France and facing a wedge of Brie, do not cut the point off for yourself: It is considered rude to bogart the prized "nose," and etiquette dictates you slice long thin wedges off the larger wedge, so everyone gets some.

In Italy, they take their Parm seriously, and to optimize eating pleasure, they have a three-step process.

Parmesan cheese
Credit: Getty / TinaFields

Step 1: The pointy edge of the wedge

Parm is a salt-washed cheese. As the cheese ages, that brine that gets wiped on the rind gets absorbed into the cheese. That means that when you look at a wedge, from the point to about halfway towards the rind, the cheese will be the mildest in terms of flavor, because the salt does not penetrate that far into the large wheels. This section of cheese, according to tradition, should be used for either eating plain on a cheese board, or shaved into wide strips to garnish things where you want that gentler flavor.

Step 2: The middle of the wedge

Once you hit the middle of the wedge, you'll notice the cheese gets a little more dense and salty, or a lot saltier if the cheese was aged longer. This is when you pull out your grater and use it to top pasta, or add shreds to a salad, or use as an ingredient in a cheese sauce

Step 3: The rind!

Once you hit the rind, stop grating, and give the exterior a quick wipe-down with a mild white vinegar solution. (This is just because the rind will have been handled a lot so it could use a little cleaning at this point). Remember: There is no wax or other sealant on the cheese, so even though the rind is hard, it is just dried cheese and fully edible.

Stash the rind in the freezer to flavor pots of soup, stew, or beans. You can save a lot of them and make a pure Parmesan stock to make risottos, or steep them in hot cream, chill, and strain the cream to make Parmesan-flavored whipped cream (great for filling savory cheese puffs or garnishing soups like cream of mushroom).

Now comes the best part: Once you fish the rinds out of your soup or beans, you'll notice that while they have not melted into the dish, they have softened beautifully. Put the warm, softened rind on a slice of bread, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs for a fabulous snack. Or cut into small cubes and pan-fry crisp to make fun little croutons to top whatever dish you made with them.