I once heard Mario Batali refer to parmigiano as "the king of cheeses." And he's right. This is a staple of Italian cooking and a key ingredient in so many recipes. It's hard to argue with Chef Batali - he stands out as one of the great chefs of all time - and the importance of the subtle cow's milk cheese can't be overstated. It has a lovely granular texture and is perfect for grating (although Italians eat it whole as well as using it in recipes). Even with only a moderate fat content it melts especially well, forming a lovely crust.
This is a cheese that is best purchased as imported and you should look for authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano. The subtle but still rich, sweet, grassy flavor has an umami punch that adds the perfect flavor to your recipes. Those made in the area of Parma and Reggio Emilia Italy are the real deal. Whenever possible I use the Italian rather than domestic or imports from South America.
The grated parmesan that comes in the green box.
Put simply, this stuff is terrible, whether you purchase the name brand or the house brand version. This cheese has the same amount of fat and calories as the higher quality imported cheese. Not much difference in saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium, either.
People talk all the time about food that "tastes like cardboard" but this product is clearly the definition of awful.
In my local store the price of green box parmesan is not much different from the far better imported stuff (you would think it would be a lot cheaper). It ranged from about $8.00 to $11.00 per pound and I found a good quality brick of Italian cheese for only $11.99 per pound. Because the flavor is so much more intense you'll need less of the higher quality cheese, making it actually cheaper to use. At the same time, because you use less there's fewer calories and fat.
This is the perfect example of eating great food, saving money and eating healthier by choosing higher quality ingredients.