The Hard Facts About Parmesan and Other Hard Cheeses
What makes cheeses like Pecorino Romano and Asiago so firm in texture, good for grating, and also wine friendly?
If you're like most people, you enjoying eating cheese, but don't know a ton about the different types. That's all about to change. As part of our cheese primer series, Elizabeth Chubbuck, SVP of sales and marketing at Murray's Cheese, has been giving us the lowdown on all the different varieties. We've already tackled fresh, soft, semi-hard, and blue cheese, and today we're learning all about hard cheeses, a category that includes Parmigiano Reggiano (the "the king of hard cheeses," Chubbuck says), Pecorino Romano, Grano Padano, and aged asiago.
What Is Hard Cheese?
When it comes to classifying a hard cheese, Chubbuck says it's all about density, which is a result of both the cheesemaking process (to make hard cheese the curds are cut into rice-sized pieces, the whey is drained, and additional moisture is pressed out of the tiny pieces of curd) and the aging process. In order to be sold in the United States, for example, Parmigiano Reggiano must be aged for at least 24 months. "That 24-month aging process just takes more moisture out and as the moisture leaves the cheese it gets harder and harder and harder," explains Chubbuck.
What Are Some Defining Traits of Hard Cheese?
Hard cheeses are dense and flavorful. "They tend to crumble rather than slice and they tend to be really densely packed with flavor. A little bit of them can go a long way," explains Chubbuck. "These are cheeses where if you tried to bend it, it would snap in half." Italian grating cheeses-which are often used to flavor a dish at the end-are typical examples of hard cheeses. Their density also makes them durable-hard cheese can sit out or get transported and not spoil or lose its character. For this reason, Chubbuck loves to pack some hard cheese for hikes or long bike rides.
How to Incorporate Hard Cheese Into a Cheese Plate
A hard cheese is often a must when Chubbuck creates a cheese plate. She notes that because they are so wine friendly, snackable, and not particularly stinky they make a great, accessible addition. Hard cheeses "add textural diversity, they add intensity of flavor, and the way they break down is not uniform and so it creates a more organic shape on the board, which can be really beautiful."
She says the one thing people sometimes have trouble with when faced with a hard cheese on a board is how to cut it. To get around this, Chubbuck suggests doing it for your guests. "Look at the cheese and see if there is something inherent to the shape of this cheese that is going to allow me to make very simple cuts and get uniform pieces out of it. If so, great, do that. If you can't slice it, then just lean into the crumble and chunk it out."