Can an American Parmesan Dethrone the King of Cheeses?

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Parmesan cheese is at the heart of Italian cuisine, and the greatest of all of Parmesans is Parmigiano Reggiano. Chefs so devotedly seek out its intensely savory flavor and distinct, granular texture that it’s often called “the king of cheeses.” The Italian government has even trademarked its name and set restrictions for where and how the cheese can be made in an effort to protect its lauded reputation. So when you’re looking for a cheese to grate over a saucy tangle of pasta, there is no substitute.

The Schuman family believes they can change all that. “We think we can make a cheese to stand up next to the Italian greats,” says Allison Schuman, a fourth-generation member of the family-owned Schuman Cheese. Since 1945, when Allison’s great grandfather, Arthur Schuman, opened his small New York City-based business importing Parmigiano Reggiano, among other cheeses, the Schuman family has made Italian cheese their way of life. (Today, Schuman Cheese is the largest importer of hard Italian cheese in the U.S.) In 2006, they set out to make their own, American answer to Parmigiano Reggiano, which they call “Copper Kettle Parmesan.”

“Copper Kettle” is a reference to the traditional, large copper kettles used in Italy for centuries to heat the milk for Parmigiano Reggiano. Most Parmesan made in the U.S. is cooked in vats made of stainless steel, but copper conducts heat quickly and evenly, allowing better control during cooking. It’s also the secret to the Parmigiano Reggiano’s signature fruity and nutty notes. “There’s just a depth and layer of flavor that you don’t get in stainless steel,” says Allison.

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The Schumans are the only cheesemaker in the U.S. using copper kettles for their Parmesan—just one of the differences that sets their Copper Kettle Parmesan apart. They also source the milk for the cheese from just four family farms in Wisconsin, each located about 50 miles from their facility. The short drive means the farms don’t have to drop the temperature of the milk to just above freezing for long periods of time to keep it from spoiling, an industry practice that can affect the milk’s flavor. Keeping the milk fresh also protects its naturally healthy bacterial activity, which gives the finished cheese added complexity.

 

Asset_3_PhotoCollageThe Schumans’ dedication to these methods is unwavering: just like Parmigiano Reggiano, their Parmesan is aged in wheels for over 12 months (14 to 18 months on average), and a group of cheese graders studiously tests the cheese, employing their “super palates” to ensure it meets the same rigorous standards as Parmigiano Reggiano. And the proof is in the Parmesan. In 2015, Copper Kettle Parmesan won first place among Italian grating cheeses at the American Cheese Society Competition. And as of April 2017, Blue Apron began exclusively sourcing Copper Kettle Parmesan for all the Parmesan in our recipes.

The Schumans are proud that their devotion to traditional methods is raising the bar for American Parmesans—a type of cheese that they think deserves a fan base of its own. “Our goal,” says Allison, “is for people to take a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano and try our cheese and be able to say, ‘You know what I actually prefer this one,’ and have it be ours.”

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