Let’s talk about Parmigiano-Reggiano, or more specifically, the rinds therefrom. Why? Because Monica saves them, and frankly, while you might think she’s being extra OCD, you’d be wrong. Right after she pointed out that I get most of my good ideas from her, (OK, that might be true…), she noted, ‘we pay twenty something bucks a pound for that stuff – I’m not throwing that away!’ She’s right, folks – Never toss those Parmesan rinds.
We should probably start with a bit of definition, since there are variables out there. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a cows milk Italian hard cheese. If it’s to be called P-R, then it has to have aged for at least 2 years before you got it, (and sometimes longer – Stravecchio is 3 years old, and stravecchiones is a 4 year old). Real deal Parmigiano-Reggiano comes only from Parma, Bologna, Mantua, or Modena, and the words ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’ are clearly stenciled onto the outer rind of each wheel of cheese. That P-R name, as well as the anglicized version, ‘Parmesan,’ are protected turf across Europe, per Italian DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) laws.
Here in the U.S., Parmesan does not enjoy that protected status, so it can come from just about anywhere. That’s not to say that all non Parmigiano-Reggiano is crap – There are some American makers creating very good cheese indeed. One caveat though – Don’t ever buy anything labeled Parmesan that’s already been grated – That’s like buying your coffee pre-ground, and it’s a major no no – it’s virtually guaranteed that the expected depth and intensity of flavor will not be there.
Since we’re talking cooking with rinds here, no genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that I’m aware of has a waxed rind, but some other Parmesan varieties do, so caveat coquus, (cooks beware, I think…) It’s easy to tell if a rind is waxed or not, just scrape it with a paring knife if you can’t tell by sight alone.
As for those genuine rinds, I assure you, they’re 100% edible. If you’ve got a really fine grater plate, or a micro plane, you have all you need to enjoy them. Fact is, all the stuff you dig about Parmigiano-Reggiano is intensified in that crustal zone – The umami, the intensely savory flavor notes, the whole shebang – so wasting that really is criminal, let alone costly.
The simplest, and some of the most deliciously effective uses for P-R rinds is to toss a couple or three into any low and slow dish you think might benefit. Everything from all day bolognese and minestrone, to stew or house made stock will benefit greatly. The rinds will soften and release that legendary flavor profile slowly but surely. You can toss the rinds after you’ve used them in this manner, or give them a nosh, as you please, (they’re still edible of course, but they do get pretty played out after hours of work like that). Oh, and your kitchen will smell fabulous when you do this, too.
A rind or two in a pot of rice, wild rice, or beans will work its magic there as well. Again, it’ll bring a notable boost in umami, a distinct mouth feel, as well as that amazing flavor palette, and it’s lovely.
How about throwing a few rinds cut skinny into a jar and topping them with olive or avocado oil? You’ll get a nice, subtle taste that’s great when mixed with balsamic vinegar for a bread dip, or as a constituent of a fresh vinaigrette.
If you don’t mind microwaves, there’s a great trick from the folks at P-R – Parmigiano-Reggiano crispy cheese rind puffs. They’re a gas to make and they are seriously heavenly little snacks. Chomp on them straight, or cut them into cubes to garnish soup, stew, or a salad.
Cut a rind or three into strips about 3/4” wide, 1/8” thick and around 3” long.
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the base or carousel of your microwave.
Place three pieces of rind on the parchment, and set your micro for 45 seconds on high power, (this if for a oven around 1,100 watts, so your time may vary depending on what kinda power you got).
The rinds will go through a very slick cooking process, puffing up quickly and substantially. Be careful with this stuff – Molten cheese is half velcro, half lava and it will do your skin serious harm!
Carefully pull the parchment with rinds onboard out of the oven, then slide the rinds onto a cooling rack.
Let them sit for a few minutes to cool out of the molten phase and firm up some.
You’re now in business – You can cut them into croutons, leave them as strips, and go wild – Be forewarned, they’re seriously addictive.
Don’t like microwaves? You can achieve pretty much the same end, albeit without the cool puffing up, by toasting rinds over a gas flame or in your broiler – They’re not quite as sexy as the puffs, but they’re every bit as delicious.
If you have a gas stove, cut a hunk of rind to about 1/2” thick, and maybe 3/4” wide and a couple inches long. Spear it with a fork on the cheesy side, and gently toast it over a flame, (over, not in), until it’s nice and golden brown.
Let them cool, then you can chow down, or cut them into croutons, etc.
If you use a broiler, place rinds cheesy side down on metal foil and cook until golden brown.
So there you go, courtesy of M, you now have a bunch of cool and delicious options for those rinds, and you’ve given your kids something new to shake their heads at when they’re rooting around in the fridge.