Why Your Cheese Board Needs Various Ages Of Parmigiano Reggiano

We all love a good cheese board — not only is it fun to put together, but it's basically a guaranteed hit at parties. If you're looking for tips on how to make your cheese board even better, here's a game changer: Add multiple ages of Parmigiano Reggiano. The reasoning? Different ages of the cheese have vastly different tastes and textures. In other words, having a 24-month-old Parmigiano Reggiano and a 72-month-old Parmigiano Reggiano will essentially taste and feel like two completely different types of cheese.

During the aging process, the bacteria of the milk changes the flavor of the cheese; the longer it's aged, the more the flavor will change. Additionally, as cheese ages, it hardens over time. The longer the aging process, the harder and more crumbly the cheese will become.

For Parmigiano Reggiano, the aging process lasts at least one year, but the "youngest" version of the cheese that you can typically purchase has been aged for 18 months. At this age, the taste is similar to milk or yogurt, often with fruity notes. On the other end of the spectrum, an "older" Parmigiano Reggiano — aged around 30 or 36 months — will have notes of spices and nuts and will have a more crumbly texture. Aging is also how the cheese gets the crunchy white crystals that you may have noticed in older Parmigiano Reggianos.

So, now that you know how the different ages vary in taste and texture, how do you integrate them into your cheese board?

What to pair with each age of Parmigiano Reggiano

Once you've decided to have two or more ages of Parmigiano Reggiano on your cheese board, you'll need to find the right pairings for each of the ages. To begin with, what flavors work well with a younger age, say between 12 and 18 months? When it comes to fruit, your best options include grapes, strawberries, apples, and pears. Really, any fresh fruit you prefer will complement a young Parmigiano Reggiano well. If you'd like to include some veggies as well, then celery or cherry tomatoes are both good options.

As for an older Parmigiano Reggiano, such as one aged between 24 and 30 months, you will want to stick to dried fruits, such as raisins or figs. This is also the perfect opportunity to add nuts to your cheese board, since older ages — with their notes of nuttiness — are the perfect complement.

In an interview with The Telegraph, London chef Vittoria Veltri suggested many pairing options for Parmigiano Reggiano aged between 12 and 36 months. For bread, Veltri recommended grissini (crispy Italian breadsticks) or tigelle (round bread meant to be filled with meat, cheese, or pesto). For a meat pairing, Veltri recommended culatello, a meat somewhat similar to prosciutto, which also pairs well with the cheese. Plus, honey and balsamic vinegar both work well when drizzled over the top of Parmigiano Reggiano.