It never occured to me before I started writing about it that the crust on a slice of parmigiano-reggiano is in fact just the cheese itself, albeit harder. If it’s thrown away then perfectly good cheese is being wasted. I have sadly been guilty of this heinous crime all too often so now I want to explore the available alternatives.
Every new method attempted at consuming the previously disposable cheese (whether a success or failure) will be reported here in an ongoing series with the aim of answering a simple question. How can we best use the crusts?
Now, alternative uses for the hardest part of parmigiano-reggiano were first bought to my attention via Wikipedia. Upon reading that, I fully intended to roast the crust I had at home and use that as the topic of this post. However, another idea struck me that I knew had to be tested first.
After deciding that I’d be slow cooking a joint of pork for dinner it seemed only natural to throw in some hardened parmesan and see what would happen, right? I figured the crust would either disintegrate, perhaps flavouring the pork, or it would soften enough to become easily edible. After roughly 8 hours on a low heat I had my answer.
Have you ever seen the movie The Fly (1958 or 1986)? Or that Halloween episode of The Simpsons? Or Baxter Stockman from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Well, after being trapped inside the slow cooker with two kilos of pig, the parmigiano crust morphed into a miniature slice of pork*.
Let me explain. The crust did in fact soften enough to be edible. The resulting texture though was remarkably similar to the cooked pork, but with greater density. There was also some subtle infusion of pork flavouring, which, along with the (only slightly subdued) original cheese sensations, made for an end result that tasted far, far better than it had any right to be. I could say it was delicious but the term cheese steak has never been more apt.
The problem then became not whether to eat it, but how. Although wanting to prolong the experience, I was not in the mood to tediously cut off small pieces. So I decided to give the softened crust a brief blitz in the food processor until I had the largest chunk being about the size of a thumb nail.
Even before finishing I knew that the result would be mixed with some couscous. The crust pieces were no longer large enough to be reminiscent of steak but each bite contrasted the moist couscous with chewy, cheesy bits of psuedo meat. The experience was different to before but no less great.
The only complaint is that the quantity created was too low and this is likely to be the case for all uses of parmesan crusts. But, one can always ask for leftover crusts from friends, family and maybe even shops and restaurants. I wonder how easy that would be.
There are certainly other dishes to which this creation could potentially be added. I’m currently thinking about oriental recipes, in which chopped peanuts are sometimes added, but that’s an experiment for another day! Indeed, expect many experiments down the road including any and all methods to soften the crusts such as boiling, roasting, microwaving, barbequing…
Even if all future ideas fall flat on their face, there is at least one use for parmigiano-reggiano crusts that works, meaning I’ll never be throwing them in the trash again.
Until the next post in this series, please share any ideas or past experiences you have for using crusts. Do you give them to your dog? Throw them on the compost heap? Sculpt one into the Venus de Milo, freeze it, then suck on it like a lollipop? Hopefully not that last one but I’d love to hear from you nonetheless.
*In case anyone is wondering, I’m sure I did not get the cheese and the pork mixed up.