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Three Things to Know About Parmesan Cheese
It’s easy to take parmesan for granted—at an Italian restaurant, it’s everywhere. To learn why it’s actually quite special, read on.
1. Parmesan packs a huge umami punch. Umami, known as the fifth taste, is responsible for a flavor we might describe simply as “savory;” it’s what makes a very ripe tomato or an anchovy so delicious. Parmesan has more L-glutamate—the amino acid the tongue perceives as umami—than most foods or other cheeses. That’s part of why it’s so ubiquitous: it’ll seem to deepen the flavors of whatever dish it lands on.
2. In Europe, parmesan means Parmigiano-Reggiano. Made the same way for more than 800 years, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is the original parmesan, often called the “King of Cheeses.” Its name is protected by European Union regulations, and it can only be made with milk from carefully fed cows raised in the Parma and Reggio provinces of Italy, where each wheel is aged at least 12 months and crowned with a little birthday hat before being sold.
3. It does an astronaut good. Parmigiano-Reggiano was the first food not developed by a space program to be approved for astronaut consumption in outer space. Why? Its extra-high calcium content helps fight osteoporosis, which depletes astronauts’ bone mass when they’re in the low-gravity environment of space.