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Pre- vs. Fresh-Grated Parmesan

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2009

Do you sacrifice flavor when you pregrate or grind your own Parmesan cheese?

We’ve never been tempted by the tasteless powdered Parmesan that comes in a green can—and in tests, we’ve found that the higher-grade pregrated cheese in the refrigerator section of the supermarket is uneven in quality. But what about pregrating or grinding your own Parmesan to always have at the ready? Do you sacrifice any flavor for convenience? To find out, we divided a block of Parmigiano-Reggiano in two, reducing one half to a powder in a food processor and leaving the other whole. We stored both the solid and grated cheese in the refrigerator for two weeks, then compared them side by side mixed into polenta, added to breading for chicken Milanese, and on their own. After two weeks of storage, tasters were hard-pressed to detect a difference between the cheeses, even in the side-by-side tasting. But after a full month of storage, tasters found a noticeable drop-off in flavor.

The bottom line: Pregrating is fine, as long as you don’t store the cheese longer than two to three weeks. To grind Parmesan, cut a block into 1-inch chunks. Place the chunks in a food processor (no more than 1 pound at a time) and process until ground into coarse particles, about 20 seconds. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.