Nancy Silverton's Advice For Buying And Cooking With Parmesan - Exclusive

Buying Parmesan can be stressful in a well-equipped grocery store with endless options. Do you pick the pre-grated or shaved cheese container? Blow your paycheck on a giant wheel? Or grab a reasonably-sized wedge and try to decipher the extra information on the label? With the confusion between Parmesan products made internationally and Italian Parmigiano Reggiano with a protected designation of origin (PDO) status, getting an expert's advice adds a layer of understanding to it all.

We chatted with chef Nancy Silverton in an exclusive interview to get the low-down on what to look for to satisfy our cheese-loving desires. From her famous Caesar salad to her eggplant Parmigiana, Parmesan souffle, and cheesy lasagnas, Silverton knows her way around the cheese aisle. Given the wide range of products made around the world, if you're looking for the real deal, she starts by stating, "You definitely want to look for a Parmesan from the Parma region, preferably Emilia-Romagna or thereabouts."

Narrowing in on the right Parmesan for your needs

Parmigiano Reggiano must be aged at least 12 months, though most products are aged double that time and even longer. Silverton takes a measured approach, saying, "I really like 24-month-old Parmesan — if it's too old, it'll be too hard." As it becomes harder, the texture also becomes extra crumbly, which can limit its culinary applications. Silverton points out, "You also want to be able to chunk it, which is how I like to serve it."

Considering the vast range of Parmesan products on the market, the chef emphasizes, "You also always want to buy from a reliable source so you can guarantee a higher quality." While grocery stores can be a good place to purchase 12- to 24-month-old Parmigiano Reggiano wedges, beyond this age it's best to visit a cheese shop.

Parmesan is pretty versatile, but Silverton skips it in favor of meltier cheeses in one instance. "The only dish I'd avoid using Parmesan in would be a grilled cheese sandwich. It won't melt the way you want it to," she explains and adds, "but you can certainly grate it on top of the sandwich to finish it!" Ultimately, Silverton's view about Parmesan is that "The best way to use it is to finish a dish with it."

Nancy Silverton will be part of the star-studded lineup at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which runs from February 22-25 in Miami, Florida.