A reader of my blog wrote me recently with an interesting question:
I work at a Whole Foods in SoCal, we are debating which cheese is rightly called the "King of Cheese." My boss says Reggiano. I disagree, but not in whole. Most sites say Stilton is the "King of Cheese," more so than Reggiano (internet search). However, Stilton is called "the King of English Cheeses" at some sites as well. Would this make Reggiano "the King of Italian Cheeses?" Maybe you can point me in some direction to get this debate settled for me, either way.
I have seen each of these cheeses referred to as the King of Cheese, but I have also seen others as well: Comté, Gruyère, Roquefort. Legendary gourmande Brillat-Savarin apparently dubbed Époisses de Bourgogne the "King of Cheese." Truly, there is no end to the number of cheeses we turophiles are willing to elevate to royal status. But which cheese is the real King of Cheese?
Characteristics of a Kingly Cheese
First we must define what characteristics the King of Cheese must have. Last year, Artisanal attempted to do just that in one of their email newsletters. According to them, "We would expect that to be called a 'king' a cheese would need to be of a unique quality that would distinguish it from all other cheeses. Whether consumed on its own or used as an ingredient in a recipe, the flavor of a king of cheese would need to hold forth."
This seems reasonable to me. The King of Cheese must rule no matter what it's being paired with. Certainly Parmigiano-Reggiano, Stilton and Roquefort all fit the bill; all three have bold, unique flavors that stand out in any situation. Comté and Gruyère can be incredible, but milder versions can definitely get lost behind a bold wine or melted into a rich dish. As for uniqueness, Artisanal points out that all these cheeses can be made at a wide array of different quality points, so it's difficult to dub any one of them truly unique.
Another quality to consider is availability; a king should not only be omnipotent, but also omnipresent. By this measure, Parmigiano-Reggiano seems a better choice than the others, even though the ubiquitous pre-grated sawdust in the green can hardly counts towards this.
Parmigiano-Reggiano Is King
Still, when you look at all these characteristics (uniqueness, boldness and ubiquity) taken together, Parmigiano-Reggiano (the real D.O.P. stuff) is the clear contender for the throne. No other cheese exemplifies these qualities as fully, and few other cheeses are as versatile in the kitchen while still being utterly enjoyable on a cheese plate. While I'm perfectly willing to call Stilton the Duke of Curd, or Époisses the Baron von Stinkiness, when it comes down to it the noble Parmigiano-Reggiano stands above the rest.
I do recognize that this is a highly subjective question, however. What do you think? What's your personal "King of Cheese?"