AUSTIN, TX. February 3, 2010

–Whole Foods Market will celebrate, one of Italy’s most famous culinary jewels, Parmigiano Reggiano, throughout the month of February with in-store events and an online customer recipe contest.

“Whole Foods Market salutes Parmigiano Reggiano each year because it is truly one of the incomparable cheeses of the world,” says Cathy Strange, global cheese buyer for Whole Foods Market.  “We take extraordinary measures to work with a small group of artisan producers in Italy to hand-select the very best Parmigiano Reggiano . Our chosen wheels are carefully aged for two years to bring out the best of Parmigiano Reggiano’s nutty and sweet flavors and creamy and crystalline textures.”

On Saturday, February 27, at 3 p.m. EST/2 p.m. CST, Whole Foods Market’s cheese mongers in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom will demonstrate the traditional method of breaking into 24-month-aged wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano using official tools (five different knives) from Italy’s Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano. The process of carving into and portioning each 85-pound wheel requires an expert hand and is usually done in about half an hour. “Part of the fun of this promotion will be watching our Team Members who have mastered the skill of ‘parm cracking’ perform this task in record time,” added Strange.  In 2008, Guinness World Records confirmed that Whole Foods Market, in its first-ever attempt, set a record for “Most Parmigiano Reggiano Wheels Cracked Simultaneously,” with nearly 300 wheels opened at 176 stores. Whole Foods Market hopes to break that record with this year's event. The ceremony will mark the grand finale to a month-long spotlight of Parmigiano Reggiano, which will honor the tradition behind the “king of cheese” and highlight its versatility.

Whole Foods Market invites shoppers to participate in an online recipe contest for a chance to win a $500 shopping spree, authentic cheese knife sets and gift baskets.  For one week, from February 3 through 10, shoppers will be encouraged to submit their original recipes online on Whole Foods Market's Behind the Rind Web page (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/behindtherind/) to share new and innovative ways to enjoy real, aged Parmigiano every day. A taste panel will judge recipes on flavor profile, overall culinary appeal and the innovative use of Parmigiano Reggiano.  The winning recipes will be featured on the Whole Story blog at www.wholefoodsmarket.com.

Parmigiano Reggiano, which is a perfect complement when grated and served with soups, salads and entrees, is too often neglected as a cheese to enjoy on its own. Here are some serving suggestions that highlight the cheese’s subtle bite, sweet nuttiness and the “pleasant fireworks” (unique, crunchy protein crystals) it ignites on the tongue:

  • Enjoy alone

    . Cut Parmigiano Reggiano into small chunks, paper-thin slivers or small, bite-sized cubes and enjoy alone.

  • Pair with a selection of accompaniments

    . Enjoy with Lambrusco wine jelly, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction, thickly sliced charcuterie, seasonal fresh fruit, nuts and honey.

  • Serve with wine and beer

    . Consider light- to medium-bodied red wines such as Castello di Gabbiano il Cavaliere Chianti, or a Valpolicella or Lambrusco. Pair with a sparkling white wine such as Prosecco.  For beer, try a clean, classic Italian lager like Peroni.

“We want to give a huge appreciation to all of our partners for helping us prepare for a fantastic event this year,” said Strange. “Thanks to the support of Buonitalia®,  the Consorzio del Formaggio de Parmigiano Reggiano, Forever Cheese and the Ministero delle Politiche Agricole Alimentarie e Forestali®,  we'll be hosting a celebration that's truly fit for the 'king of cheese.'” Dating back almost 1,000 years, only Parmesan cheese made in one area of northern Italy can bear the name Parmigiano Reggiano.  In the rolling hills of Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena and portions of Bologna and Mantua, Parmigiano Reggiano is made in small batches, using artisan methods that meet the strict quality standards of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano.  Strange shares a glimpse of her trip to this region to select the very best wheels on her “Cheese Travels” video blog also found on the Behind the Rind Web site. Parmigiano Reggiano relays “terroir” –or sense of place– in its taste and culinary history. Whole Foods Market invites shoppers to experience Italy’s terroir by enjoying Parmigiano Reggiano with Lambrusco wine jelly and Castello di Gabbiano il Cavaliere Chianti wine, two other distinctive items in Italy’s food culture.  Fresh and fruity, the Lambrusco wine jelly is produced in northern Italy in the historic town of Mantova by artisan producer Paola Calciolari. Strange says the exceptional wine jelly, which displays the classic flavor of Lambrusco, brings out the cream and salt of the cheese and makes for a delightful pairing.

The Castello di Gabbiano il Cavaliere Chianti is a special Sangiovese blend made for Whole Foods Market that unfolds into a lush bouquet of ripe red fruits.  Made in the Tuscan tradition, it’s a dry, well-balanced and full-bodied Sangiovese made by one of the most-recognized Chianti brands in the world.  “The Castello di Gabbiano il Cavaliere Chianti has round plum, dark cherry and white pepper notes, with a firm and lingering finish,” says Doug Bell, national wine buyer for Whole Foods Market.  “The balanced acidity of the wine, combined with the naturally oily character of the cheese, is the perfect combination.”

In addition to the February 27 “cracking events,” Whole Foods Market stores will provide recipes host in-store pairings and tastings in the cheese departments throughout February. For more information, photos and a video of a Whole Foods Market Team Member demonstrating the art of cracking open a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, go to: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/behindtherind/.