Why Is Real Parmesan Cheese So Expensive?

People who love Parmesan cheese really love Parmesan cheese. You've probably seen the memes out there about said love — the ones where the waiter is grating a growing mountain of Parmesan over a plate of pasta. Just say when? Yeah, right. The beloved Parmigiano Reggiano is the most popular cheese in Italy (via Statista), where over 3.6 million wheels of the good stuff are produced every single year, Insider reports.

If you're shopping for Parmesan at the grocery store, however, beware — in 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that some American cheese manufacturers were selling "Parmesan cheese" that didn't contain any Parmesan at all (via Foodbeast), with some even containing wood pulp and completely different types of cheeses. The authentic stuff, while a bit pricier, is worth the splurge, with its nutty flavor and hard texture. But why is real Parmesan cheese so expensive? Here's the reason for its steep price tag.

Making Parmesan cheese is a very involved process

We've all heard the old adage, "you get what you pay for." And in the case of Parmesan cheese, that absolutely rings true — i.e., you're paying for hours of hard work by Parmesan cheesemakers in Italy. For starters, there are only 329 dairies in the world that can make true Parmesan cheese, as it can only be made in Emilia Romagna, a region in Northern Italy, because of the special bacteria that grows there (via DIY Ways). 

Next, Parmesan cheese requires a lot more milk than other types of cheese, with a single wheel consisting of 140 gallons of milk, Eating Well reports. After the wheel is brined for about three weeks, it must be cured for a minimum of one year (but can take up to three years) before it's examined by the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is the regulating body that oversees the production of Parmesan cheese in Italy. If the cheese passes the test, it finally makes its way to your local grocery store — and hence, you pay a higher price for it than your run-of-the-mill Kraft singles.