How did we not learn this earlier?

In my early twenties I worked with a woman whose family was from Italy. She was the one who introduced me to the local Italian markets, and taught me to source amazing, imported ingredients like arborio rice for risottos, properly aged balsamic vinegars, canned Italian tomato products, and wedges of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. She taught me to look for the DOP designation on all products to ensure highest quality, that extra virgin olive oil should be stored in opaque containers in a cool place and never be used to cook with since heat kills its fresh verdant flavor, and that tomato paste should be double or triple concentrated and that bottled Italian passata is superior to American canned sauce. 

Ever since then, rinds get stored in a zip top bag in my freezer, and I use them to flavor all methods of stocks, soups, stews, and braises. I love the rich umami they bring to dishes—not quite a "cheese" flavor, but rather a more subtle musky undertone of richness. I've been forever grateful for the lessons she taught me, and so I have forgiven her for not telling me about grilled Parmesan rinds.

Yeah. I know.

For those who might be new to the Parmesan rind cooking game (thinking that's just about everyone), here the secret: Unlike many other cheeses, Parmesan does not have any wax or other additives in its rind. It is literally just the aged and hardened exterior of the cheese that has been washed in salt brine. It is too hard to make it good eating when raw, but once softened with heat, it becomes fully edible! I knew this from snacking on it after it has softened in a pot of beans or the gravy from a braised pork shoulder. But I had no idea you could just cook and eat the rinds on their own!

Turns out, a great little snack is just moments away if you have a hot grill on the go. The perfect appetizer to give to guests while they wait for the steaks or chops to be done.

Even better, they could not be simpler.

Credit: Getty / alexbai

How to grill Parmesan cheese rinds

For starters, when I get down to the rind of my wedge of Parm, I take the time to dip a paper towel in a mild white vinegar solution and give it a good wipe down on the exterior. It's been manhandled by this point, and I want it to be clean. Then I dry it well and stash it in a ziptop bag in the freezer. Once I have collected a bunch, I'll let them thaw in the fridge in prep for grilling.

I like to grill them in large pieces, so that they don't fall thru the grates. Just give them a light spray with a neutral nonstick cooking spray that can handle high heat (I use avocado oil spray) and put them on the grill over direct heat until they get browned with a little charring on the edges and have softened, just a couple minutes per side should do it.

Remove to a cutting board and slice into bite sized pieces, and garnish. You can also make a punchy salsa verde and toss the cheese pieces in it while still hot for them to absorb the flavors.

Delicious toppings for grilled Parmesan cheese

But wait, there's more! I've discovered that a little creative topping magic can elevate the creamy goodness. Try these topping ideas: 

  • A drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of fennel pollen
  • A drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar and sprinkle of red pepper flakes
  • A drizzle of lemon-flavored olive oil and oregano-infused white balsamic vinegar
  • A drizzle of lemon juice, fresh herbs, and extra virgin olive oil
  • A sprinkle of chopped Calabrian chili peppers and olives