Parmesan cheese is made in Argentina, Australia and the U.S., but nothing else can compare to Parmigiano-Reggiano, the king of Italian cheese. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a full-flavored, hard, dry cheese with a unique granular texture. Start using Parmigiano-Reggiano in your recipes instead of lesser Parmesans, and you'll be amazed at the difference.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from the raw milk of
grass-fed cows in the provinces of Parma, Reggio-Emilia and Modena. Its distinctive dryness and firmness result from (i) the fact that the curds are cut into very fine pieces to increase the amount of liquid whey that is drained off and (ii) an aging process that lasts from two to seven years. Before aging, wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano float in a brine bath for 20 days to soak up salt.
Because the name 'Parmesan' denotes a protected designation of origin in the European Union, the EU is campaigning to get cheesemakers outside of Italy to stop using the Parmesan name. Don't expect the Kraft Corporation to acquiesce any time soon.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is used primarily for grating and baking. I just finished working my way through a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano, eating the cheese by itself on Red Oval Farms Stoned Wheat Thins. I enjoyed the experience, but I don't recommend it. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a salty, acidic, strongly flavored cheese. It is not an easy cheese to eat by itself. I strongly recommend Parmigiano-Reggiano for cooking but not for party cheese trays.
You may be saying to yourself, "I don't really need to buy Parmigiano-Reggiano. I already buy higher quality Parmesan from the gourmet cheese aisle and haven't bought a green can of Parmesan in years. Surely the quality of the Parmesan I buy is good enough." Think again. Accept no substitute for Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Most grocery stores sell pre-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. I recommend buying a wedge and grating it freshly yourself.
Here is an oddball collection of commercials for Parmigiano-Reggiano, presumably produced by the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano for Italian television:
Did you notice the bodiless hand making grated cheese fall like snow upon all below? Don't ask me how this is supposed to sell cheese.