“This Is What Parm Is Supposed To Taste Like?”

Our editor-in-chief, Beth Thompson, travelled to Italy for a behind-the-scenes look at how Parmigiano-Reggiano is crafted and how it finds its way to Canada.

Parmigiano Reggiano, cheesephoto credit: Donna Griffith

Parmigiano-Reggiano: What it’s really like to taste the real deal

Mind blown: That was the state I was in after biting into a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese while on a farm-to-fork tour in Italy last year. I could barely speak, but I managed to eek out, rhetorically, “This is what Parm is supposed to taste like?”

When I was a kid, we sprinkled “parmesan” from a plastic bottle on our Tuesday night pasta. It was dirt dry and smelled like old socks. As a result, it never made the grocery list in my adult years.

This is hands down the best way to travel in Europe.

But that taste memory didn’t align with what I was currently devouring. Was it the Italian wine or the starry Parma sky that was seducing me? No, I was just eating the real deal: A crumbly, salty wedge of cheese handmade using techniques developed during the Middle Ages. And now rigorously monitored by a local consortium that stamps each wheel of cheese produced in the region. To receive this stamp of authenticity, exacting standards must be adhered to, starting with what the region’s cows graze on and ending with a 24-month aging process under specific conditions.

I share this food memory not to brag about that once-in-a-lifetime trip but to inspire you. See, you don’t have to travel to Italy or drop a bundle of dough to sink your teeth into a beautiful, authentic piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano. In fact, you don’t have to go farther than the cheese aisle at your local President’s Choice grocer.

But who exactly is behind bringing Italy’s best Parmigiano-Reggiano to Canada?

We sat down with Kathlyne Ross, vice-president of product development and innovation at Loblaw Companies Limited, to get the scoop on how they travel the world to find the trendiest and most authentic food offerings – so that you can enjoy them at your own family gatherings. (How to build a drool-worthy cheese platter.)

What drives the company’s desire to find new items?

President’s Choice has always been about discovery. We’re always travelling to taste new cuisines and flavours and bring them back to share with our consumers. No one has been able to do that the way we do.

How many global trips do you take in a year?

Our product development teams travel the world quite a lot. I often take one big international trip a year to a country where we want to explore new food trends. Last year’s exploration was in India. I also explore different cities across Canada and the United States to see what is happening. Portland, New York and Minneapolis have been my recent travel destinations. (Here are 10 destinations ideal for female solo travellers.)

Sounds like a dream job! How long have you been doing this?

I’ve been the vice-president of product development and innovation for three years. What makes this job incredibly unique is that no day is the same. It involves providing strategic direction for the innovation behind PC products, ensuring that product standards and consistent quality are always met and travelling the world to find what’s new and next for our customers.

How deep do you dive to find “what’s new and next”?

When we travel for inspiration and ideas, it’s really about getting to the restaurants, unique food shops and retail stores to understand and evaluate what’s trending. We may go to a restaurant because we know it has amazing vegan offerings and we want to be inspired for new plant-protein products. It’s also about determining what trends are really viable to develop into products for our consumers and what trends are simply fads.

We also identify themes through travel and research. If we see a particular flavour in multiple places, we determine if there is an opportunity to bring that flavour profile into some of our PC products. Sriracha was a very good example of that.

You’ll want to make this Italian turkey sausage & white bean soup all winter long. (For an added touch, shave Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.)

Originally Published in Best Health Canada