I’m a broth-head. A mug full of piping-hot savory liquid satisfies me no matter the time of day. I can drink it out of a mug first thing in the morning. I like a cup of broth with a sandwich or with a salad. One of my all-time favorite pairings is a cold steel bowl of Korean naengmyeon and a mug full of beef broth served out of a thermos. I use broth as a flavor enhancer: a little bit of vegetable stock in a pasta primavera, chicken stock risotto, or some beef broth added to some sautéed vegetables. I keep broths in my freezer and fridge so that I may deploy them in an instant. “It’s the magic juice,” a chef once told me about chicken stock. Meat and vegetable broth changes everything. But can you make a broth out of cheese? Is that crazy? The answer to both questions, my friends, is hell to the yeah.
Parm broth is made from Parmesan cheese rinds. Like beef bones or chicken carcass, once the rinds are steeped and simmered in water they infuse that liquid with delicious, concentrated flavor. The rind on a wheel of Parmesan is essentially a protective layer of hardened cheese that develops during the air-drying process. A rind is perfectly edible, albeit tough and unpleasant—but they pack a ton of flavor. You can throw a Parmesan rind in just about anything and it will enhance the flavor of the finished dish: Risotto, ragu, sauces, and the like all benefit from throwing in a little bit of that dried layer of Parmesan cheese. Its condensed, hardened flavor begs to be extracted.
So, where do you get Parmesan cheese rinds? Well, they’re definitely not available everywhere. I often have trouble finding them in Los Angeles. A number of Italian delis don’t keep them around because they simply don’t sell shaved Parmesan. I haven’t seen them at the local grocery stores, either, but a place like Whole Foods should keep them on hand. That’s my usual go-to when I need a quick pound. You can of course accumulate your own Parmesan rinds as you shave through chunks of them; kept in an airtight storage container they should last for months. Alternatively, stuff them in a zip-top storage bag and freeze them. I don’t see a definitive answer about how long Parmesan rinds last. Some people seem to think they last indefinitely, but I’m not so sure. I will say that I have kept them for six months and didn’t notice any additional degradation or odor.
As I type this, I’m enjoying a mug full of Parmesan cheese broth. It’s definitely odd by itself, like drinking a piping-hot Italian cheese Americano. But it’s hitting the spot and offering a different experience. The salty, nutty, aromatic nature of Parmesan shines and is accentuated by the addition of herbs. In the cold, cold months of winter, you’ll probably seek out classics like chicken noodle soup, pho, and ramen. But as you make soups at home, I implore you to try making a little Parmesan cheese broth. I recently made a pasta fagioli made entirely of Parm broth and it was delicious. Get a little more cheese in your life. Let it warm your bones and stick to your sides. You’ll be thankful you did.
- 1 lb. Parmesan cheese rinds
- 4 leek leaves
- 5 sprigs thyme
- 5 sprigs parsley
- 2 tsp. black peppercorns
I like to treat Parmesan broth almost like a cacio e pepe. The main flavors I’m looking for here are pepper and cheese. There’s no garlic, but if you add it in it surely would taste good.
In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine the rinds, leek leaves, thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs, and peppercorns. Fill with 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally, definitely more than you would a traditional stock. I suggest using a rubber spatula. The Parmesan rinds tend to stick to the bottom of the pot and/or whatever utensil you use to stir the broth, so try not to let it get too sedentary. Simmer 2-3 hours. The broth should be cloudy, aromatic, and taste deeply of cheese.
Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve. Let it cool at room temperature. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week, and it also freezes well.