Cheese is a staple of Italian cuisine, and if it is of high quality and consumed moderately, it can be an important part of the Mediterranean Diet. Not only is it delicious, but it contains a whole host of health benefits.

If you’ve ever been to a restaurant in Italy, you might have noticed that you were offered to have some hard cheese grated on to your dish of pasta. Most of the time, and in most of the country, this cheese will be Parmigiano-Reggiano. Although it comes from the province of Parma in the region of Emilia-Romagna, it is a favorite choice all over Italy.

Consistent with the Mediterranean Diet, Parmigiano-Reggiano has a great deal of nutritional value, especially when compared to other types of cheeses. Below we will discuss 9 health benefits of parmesan cheese.

What Is Parmesan Cheese?

It’s a good question. There are so many different kinds of cheese in Italy that it can be hard to keep track of them. But of course Parmesan stands out. “Parmesan” is the non-Italian equivalent of Parmigiano-Reggiano (the real Italian name). Parmesan is made in other countries “in the style” of Parmigiano-Reggiano, but of course it tastes different since the primary ingredients are different.

However, the cheese-making process is essentially the same. Then it is matured for around 24 months, but some are left for longer than this.

What Is Parmesan Cheese?

The European Union has provided authentic parmesan cheese with a protected designation of origin (or PDO) order, which basically means only places that are authorized can declare that ONLY their version of cheese is the real Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Much in the same way as champagne can only be called champagne when it’s from specific regions of France – otherwise it’s known as sparkling wine. In the US though and elsewhere, anything that looks, smells and tastes like parmesan cheese can have the name, but it can’t be designated as the original Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Health Benefits Of Parmesan Cheese

1. Parmesan cheese is very high in protein.

Protein is a key macronutrient that our body needs to promote muscle growth, repair and fatigue. It makes us feel fuller, which can benefit people who want to lose weight. It can also help you build lean muscle and transport oxygen through your body using your blood.

2. Parmesan cheese is easier to digest than most other cheeses.

Due to its maturity process, parmesan breaks down its casein proteins, which some people find difficult to digest.

3. Parmesan cheese may be suitable for lactose intolerant people.

This is due to the severe lack of the milk sugar (lactose) being present in parmesan cheese. Although the content of lactose is pretty much non-existent, people with severe intolerance to lactose are still better off leaving it alone.

4. Parmesan cheese is packed with vital minerals.

These include potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and sulfur. Our bodies need these minerals to function properly and sometimes we find it difficult to source them – this cheese could be the answer to that problem.

5. Parmesan cheese is also a great source of omega-3.

Omega 3s are a group of acids that our bodies do not naturally produce, so we must get them from other avenues in our diet.

The benefits of omega 3 include things like strong eyes and sight, it acts as an antidepressant, it can fight against heart disease and promote strong brain functionality in babies when the mother is pregnant.

6. Parmesan cheese is high in menaquinone.

This is a mineral that helps our bone health. Needless to say, we are always better off with stronger bones – and it will defend against the potential of osteoporosis or brittle bones.

7. Parmesan cheese provides a healthy source of fat.

Contrary to some, fats are still vital in our diet and parmesan cheese provides a good source of the right type of fat. With any food or drink though – it’s about balance.

8. Parmesan cheese acts as a probiotic which promotes good gut health.

The production of good bacteria in our gut can help regulate digestion and sometimes assist in weight loss, among other beneficial things in our everyday lives.

9. Parmesan cheese makes healthy food taste better!

As parmesan cheese can improve the quality of our food by enhancing the tastes, it can inadvertently help us eat healthier – which has massive benefits to our health.

If you’re taking on a weight loss program, it can often be difficult to stick to a healthy diet plan. Italian food can be very healthy, so it’s a good idea to eat like an Italian.

However, if you are trying to avoid things like carbohydrates for a weight loss plan, adding parmesan cheese to a salad can help you stick to your goals. It truly is a versatile cheese!

How Is Parmesan Cheese Made?

Grass fed cows on farms have their milk taken and it remains unpasteurized. This milk is then sent to cheese producers who will mix it with a rennet and a whey starter.

As it ages, an expert cheese grader will annually and strictly assess the cheese wheel. It will not be allowed to use the name parmesan if the grader decides the cheese has any problem or imperfections.

What Does Parmesan Cheese Taste Like?

It has a unique and strong taste, often described as sharp. It can be crumbly, nutty and have an enticing smell.

What’s The History Of Parmesan Cheese?

What’s The History Of Parmesan Cheese

It has a long and rich history dating back to the 13th century. Much like many unique and authentic foods and drinks, parmesan cheese is thought to have been created by Benedictine Monks of Parma-Reggio, who wanted to discover a way of prolonging the amount of milk that was being produced.

They followed up on their success with their creation by exporting it around Italy and eventually the rest of Europe. Of course, where there is success – there will always be an imitator, which can devalue the original product.

The original name of parmesan cheese (parmigiano reggiano) would be one of the ways to know the authenticity of the cheese, after Italy put a rule in place that the region would have sole control over development and production of the cheese.

And as we said, over the years – the European Union would place another order in place regarding the use of the word parmesan.

Interestingly, parmesan cheese would appear in famous works of literature throughout the coming centuries. Notably, Samuel Peeps’ diary which described the Great Fire of London discussed things that were lost in the fire such as important historical documents, but also wheels of cheese – specifically, parmesan.

The Many Health Benefits of Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan cheese has many health benefits such as promoting strong bones and organs. It can also help regulate your gut health, potentially lead to weight loss and help you defend against some illnesses and body malfunctions.

It’s important though, that you don’t forget that you should include parmesan cheese as part of a rich, balanced diet unless told not to do so by your doctor. A healthy diet is always about balance, so eating a garage full of cheese will certainly be no good to you!

Parmesan cheese improves the taste of foods, assuming you’re a fan to begin with – and why wouldn’t you be? Parmesan tastes great and goes through meticulous inspections and years of maturity to be available for you to try.

As a true Italian food, why not add parmesan to a traditional Italian dish like passatelli with vegetable ragù? It’s an amazing dish which is extremely low in calories and packed with vitamins, minerals and protein – giving the parmesan a double boost of all its own benefits!

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the health benefits of parmesan cheese! Happy Italian cooking!

Rick Zullo

Former doctor, current science teacher, and life-long food lover, Rick's passion for Mediterranean cuisine was ignited while living as an expat in Rome, Italy. 


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