Is Parmigiano-Reggiano healthier than parmesan?

Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan are two of the most popular hard Italian cheeses. Both are frequently used for grating and adding flavor to pastas, risottos, and other dishes. But is one healthier than the other?

What is Parmigiano-Reggiano?

Parmigiano-Reggiano is often regarded as the “king of cheeses.” It’s a hard, granular cheese made from raw cow’s milk in the Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna provinces of Emilia-Romagna, Italy.

By law, Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be produced in this small region; the strict regulations also mandate that it be made with milk from that area as well. The lengthy 12+ month aging process gives Parmigiano-Reggiano its characteristic texture and intense, complex flavor.

Production process

Parmigiano-Reggiano production follows time-honored techniques that have changed little over the past nine centuries. Raw milk from the morning milking is left to naturally cream to partially skim the fat. Then selected whey ferments, natural calf rennet, and salt are added to form the curds over low heat.

The large wheels of cheese are then pressed to squeeze out moisture, salted again, and aged a minimum of 12 months. Only cheese approved by the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano consortium can bear the “Parmigiano-Reggiano” name.


Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of the most nutritious cheeses, packed with protein, calcium, and vitamins. A 1 ounce (28g) serving contains1:

Calories 111
Fat 7g
Saturated fat 4.5g
Cholesterol 20mg
Sodium 180mg
Carbohydrates less than 1g
Protein 10g
Calcium 27% DV

With 10 grams of protein per ounce, Parmigiano-Reggiano offers an excellent source of this macronutrient. It’s also a good source of calcium, providing 27% of the daily value per serving.

However, Parmigiano-Reggiano is very high in sodium, with 180 mg per ounce. It’s also high in saturated fat at 4.5 grams per ounce.

What is Parmesan cheese?

Parmesan is a term used to describe a variety of hard Italian cheeses perfect for grating. In Europe, only cheese made in specific regions according to strictly regulated methods can be called “Parmigiano-Reggiano.” But in other countries, cheeses inspired by Parmigiano-Reggiano are simply labeled “parmesan.”

Some parmesan cheeses are very similar to authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano. But others are made using different techniques and ingredients.

Production process

True parmesan cheese is produced in a manner like Parmigiano-Reggiano, using raw milk and natural rennet and aging for over 10 months. But some parmesan cheeses cut corners in the process.

This can include using pasteurized instead of raw milk, substituting cheaper rennet sources, and aging for less time. There are no restrictions on the milk source either. Cheaper parmesans may use preservatives as well.


With a wide range of products using the name “parmesan,” nutrition details can vary quite a bit. In general, parmesan made closely to Parmigiano-Reggiano standards offers comparable nutrition2:

Calories 111
Total fat 7g
Saturated fat 4.5g
Cholesterol 18mg
Sodium 170mg
Total carbs 2g
Protein 10g
Calcium 28% DV

Lower quality parmesans may be higher in sodium, saturated fat, and preservatives though. Checking the nutrition labels is important if comparing products.

Differences between Parmigiano-Reggiano and parmesan

While Parmigiano-Reggiano and parmesan share some traits, there are a few key differences between them:

Region of production

Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be made in a designated region of Italy, under strict supervision. Parmesan can be made anywhere.

Milk source

Parmigiano-Reggiano must be made with raw milk from approved local farms. Parmesan can use pasteurized milk from a wider geographic area.


Parmigiano-Reggiano production follows detailed requirements. Parmesan methods are less rigidly controlled.

Aging time

Parmigiano-Reggiano is aged for at least 12 months, while some parmesan may be aged for only 10 months.


Parmigiano-Reggiano is more expensive than parmesan. Expect to pay $15-$20 per pound versus $8-$12 per pound for parmesan.


The long aging and strict regulations give Parmigiano-Reggiano a richer, more complex flavor than parmesan.

Nutritional comparison

Now that we’ve looked at their backgrounds, let’s directly compare the nutrition of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan.

Calories and macronutrients

Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan have virtually identical amounts of calories, protein, fat, carbs, and fiber per serving. Both offer an excellent source of protein.

Vitamins and minerals

The vitamin and mineral content of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan is also very similar. Both provide a good amount of calcium and smaller amounts of vitamins A, B12, K2, zinc, and phosphorus.


Sodium content is close between the two, ranging from 170-180mg per ounce. This makes both very high in sodium density.

Saturated fat

With around 4.5 grams of saturated fat per ounce, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan are both considered high in saturated fat.


Cholesterol levels are a bit lower in Parmesan, with 18mg per ounce versus 21mg per ounce for Parmigiano-Reggiano. But both would be considered high cholesterol foods.


Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano does not contain any preservatives. But lower quality Parmesan may have added preservatives. Checking the ingredient list is important.

Overall, when comparing the same serving size, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan offer very similar nutritional value. Authentic parmesan made following traditional methods is nearly nutritionally identical to its Parmigiano-Reggiano cousin.

Health benefits

Beyond their stellar nutrition stats, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan offer some valuable health benefits:

Weight management

The protein and fat in Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan may promote appetite control and slower digestion, helping with weight management.

Blood pressure

These cheeses provide bioactive milk peptides that may help reduce blood pressure levels.


Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan are sources of vitamin D and zinc, nutrients that support immune function.

Bone health

The ample calcium content of these cheeses promotes strong, healthy bones when consumed as part of a balanced diet.

Gut health

The live cultures and fermentation byproducts in Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan benefit gut microbiome diversity.


The protein, fat, and savory umami flavor provide lasting satiety, preventing overeating.

Muscle health

Whey protein from the cheese offers amino acids that may support muscle growth and maintenance.


Despite their nutritional attributes, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan also come with some downsides:

High sodium

With 170-180mg sodium per ounce, these cheeses are very high in sodium content. This may increase risk of high blood pressure.

Saturated fat

Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan contain elevated saturated fat, around 30% of the daily value per ounce. High intakes may negatively impact blood cholesterol.


Those with milk allergies or sensitivities need to avoid these cheeses due to their milk-based ingredients.


The low pH and fermentation end products may cause digestive upset in some people when over-consumed.

High calorie density

With over 100 calories in just a 1-ounce serving, these hard cheeses are very energy dense foods. Portion size control is essential.

Pregnancy risk

Raw milk cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano are not recommended during pregnancy due to risk of pathogens. Pasteurized Parmesan is considered safer.

Environmental impact

In addition to nutrition and health effects, the environmental footprint of food production is an important consideration for many consumers.


Parmigiano-Reggiano production has a moderate environmental impact3:

– Raw milk sourcing from local farms reduces transport miles and supports local economies.

– Traditional production methods rely on natural fermentation and aging rather than artificial additives.

– The long aging time does require substantial energy for climate control in aging facilities.

– As a ruminant animal product, Parmigiano-Reggiano has higher emissions compared to plant-based foods. But the emissions per pound are lower than meat.


Parmesan’s environmental impact depends heavily on production methods4:

– Parmesans made traditionally like Parmigiano-Reggiano have comparable impacts.

– The wider milk sourcing radius increases transport emissions for some parmesans.

– Lower aging times reduce energy use for certain parmesans.

– Preservatives and additives may be used in some parmesan production.

– Cheese made from the milk of ruminants has higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.

Overall, traditionally-produced parmesan has a similar or slightly higher environmental impact than Parmigiano-Reggiano. But parmesans utilizing more industrialized methods tend to have greater detrimental effects.

Price differences

Parmigiano-Reggiano commands a significant price premium over Parmesan:


– Retail cost is $15-$20+ per pound.

– Strict regulations, specialized labor, and long aging time increase production costs.

– As an iconic, legally protected product, it has high brand value.

– Price reflects generations of artisanal cheesemaking tradition.


– Retail cost is $8-$12 per pound usually.

– Shorter aging time and larger production lowers costs.

– Commodity pricing due to lack of legal protection.

– Significant variability in price based on quality.

How to use them

Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan both make excellent additions to dishes in either grated or shredded form. Popular uses include:

– Toppings for pasta, risotto, polenta, pizza, soups

– Salads, roasted vegetables, fried eggs

– Mixed into mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes

– Stirred into risottos at the end of cooking

– Sauce enrichment – pestos, Alfredo, béchamel

– Bread crumbs or crackers as a seasoning

– Snacking on chunks, cubes, or thin slices

When cooking, add the cheese at the end to prevent separation and maintain desirable texture. For serving at the table, provide freshly grated cheese.

Parmigiano-Reggiano vs. Parmesan: Which should you choose?

So when it comes down to Parmigiano-Reggiano vs Parmesan, which makes the better choice?

Here are some key considerations when deciding between them:


If price is a major factor, Parmesan provides better value. But focus on quality Parmesan for best flavor and nutrition.


For cheese aficionados, authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano is worth the splurge for its depth of flavor and artisanal legacy.

Origin preference

Supporting local food traditions may make Parmigiano-Reggiano more appealing to some. Parmesan offers a more global approach.

Cooking use

For most cooking purposes, Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano can be used interchangeably.

Weight management

If curbing calories, stick to lighter servings of either. But the protein can promote satiety.


Traditional Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan have an edge for sustainability.


Those with milk/dairy issues must avoid both types.


When it comes to nutritional content, Parmigiano-Reggiano and quality Parmesan are nearly identical.

The bottom line

Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan offer very comparable nutrition profiles and health benefits. Parmesan made traditionally from raw milk, aged over 10 months, and free of additives can be considered nutritionally equivalent to Parmigiano-Reggiano.

For most applications, the two cheeses can be used interchangeably. But Parmigiano-Reggiano stands apart for its strict production methods, artisanal legacy, and intensity of flavor. For cheese connoisseurs, the extra cost for authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano may be warranted, especially for enjoying on its own.

Otherwise, Parmesan presents a suitable and more wallet-friendly alternative in most cases. Just be sure to select high-quality Parmesan for the closest match in nutrition, flavor, and texture to the king of cheeses.

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