By the 1530s, Italian nobles began to refer to the cheese as Parmesano, meaning “of or from Parma.”
Given the close ties between the Italian and French nobility, it’s no surprise that the name was shortened to Parmesan in the French courts of the day. The latter acquired a taste for the cheese they often received as a gift from Parma visitors. Another name indicating the Gallic appreciation for this cheese was fromage de Parme.
The Name Parmesan Stuck!
From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the name Parmesan became more common due to the continuing close relations between the Dukes of Parma and the French nobility.
Seeking to prolong his life, the playwright Molière decided to live on a diet consisting of 12 ounces of Parmesan and three glasses of port a day. His fad diet had merit from a nutritional standpoint because Parmigiano Reggiano is rich in protein and easy to digest.
According to historical records mentioning the cheese, the name Parmesan eventually spread beyond France to take root in other countries.
Italian Terms for Parmesan
If the French word Parmesan means “of or from Parma,” what does Parmigiano mean? The same thing, in Italian. Producers who lived closer to Reggio than to Parma might refer to their cheese as Reggiano. These Italian terms indicating geographical origin became common only in the 19th and 20th centuries with the political and linguistic unification of Italy.
In 1934, producers in Parma and Reggio-Emilia joined forces with producers in the provinces of Modena and Mantua (the portion to the east of the Po River) to form an association called the Consorzio del Grana Tipico. Recognizing that they shared the same cheese-making terroir, these cheese makers banded together to standardize the production of their cheeses. Producers from the province of Bologna (to the west of the Reno River) later joined the group.