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My friend planted three rows of basil in his garden to make pesto, and now we need to source roughly 25-50lbs of parmesan. With that kind of quantity, cheaper is better.

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4 Answers 4

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The price of genuine-sealed-and-certified parmagiano reggiano is quite high and fairly consistent, especially for more aged varieties. I think your best bet to save money will be to use a similar parmagiano reggiano cousin, such as grana padano, romano, or a quality Argentinian reggianito. As a second-tier approach, you might look at domestic Parmesan, but use caution as it may not have the same quality as a one of the Italian imports.

As for genuine Parmesan: you're buying at least a couple hundred dollars of cheese, and this gives you some bargaining power. Buy or ask to taste a small sample of whatever you're considering, and try to negotiate; managers may be willing to offer you a bulk discount. I'd gather a couple quotes from cheese shops, try prices at your local Costco/Sam's Club, and talk to the upscale grocery stores in your area.

As far as pricing goes, I've seen genuine-seal-and-everything Parmagiano Reggiano on sale at about $12-13/lbs at my local Southern Season. I generally expect to pay $18-22/lbs at upscale grocery stores for Parmesan, with remarkably little variation between stores. Your standard grocery stores tend to sell small blocks of inferior-quality and freshness Parmesan for similar prices.

In contrast, grana padano runs around $12-13/lbs on average at my local Trader Joe's, and might be available for under $10/lbs with a good sale. I usually buy blocks of that for general cooking use, as it is close enough in taste and much cheaper.

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I would also add that Pecorino Romano is usually cheaper than Parmigiano Reggiano and is traditionally included in pesto along with it (the traditional cheese is actually Fiore Sardo, which is also made with sheep milk, but that is very difficult to find outside of Italy). –  nico Jul 8 '11 at 6:32
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It should be noted that although domestic (i.e., US-made) paremsan-style cheese can be much cheaper than the "real" stuff, a recent Cooks Illustrated taste test concluded that real Parmigiano-Reggiano is far superior. A panel of blind taste testers could easily pick out the real cheese; the domestic versions had very different textures and were described as "rubbery, salty, and bland." –  ESultanik Jul 8 '11 at 14:09
    
@ESultanik: That cook's illustrated taste test isn't by any means comprehensive, given the variety of cheese producers. A high-quality domestic may be acceptable for this use, although I'd much sooner use grana padano. I think you'd have to compare a couple, and stay away from the cheap grocery store "grated Parmesan." (I use quotes, because the connection between that and real reggiano is tenuous at best). –  BobMcGee Jul 8 '11 at 16:47
    
@BobMcGee: True, they did only compare cheeses from six different domestic producers. –  ESultanik Jul 11 '11 at 12:01

Costco has good quality, large chunks of parmesan for a lot cheaper than grocery stores.

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I can't find a quote anywhere on their site. What's the price like at your local Costco? –  BobMcGee Jul 8 '11 at 6:48
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It's been a long time since I had to buy a chunk, but I think it's somewhere in the 9-10 dollars/pound range. For comparison my local supermarket price is around 16 dollars/pound. –  AaronN Jul 8 '11 at 15:55
    
True. Costco is generally good value when it comes to cheese.. –  Manfred Moser Sep 6 '11 at 17:34

We find good values at our local ethnic market -- specifically, in my case, Phonecia Specialty Foods in Houston, TX. They have no problems selling in bulk by the wheel.

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Well, it's not first frost yet in most areas, so you might still have time on this --

I'd ask your local Italian restaurants where they get their cheese from. Odds are, they're not paying the grocery store $15-20/lb prices.

In my area, there's Restaurant Depot, which sells Parmagiano Reggiano cheaper than some of the regular grocery stores sell other cheaper varieties. The thing is, they sell it in chunks about 1/8 of a wheel or larger if I recall correctly (which is about 10lb a chunk ... maybe they had 5lb chunks, but I don't think it was smaller than that), and they'll only give membership cards to people who can prove they have a business or a non-profit ... but it's possible that a restaurant who already has a good source might be willing to resell some to you.

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