The Common Store-Bought Shortcut Ina Garten Can't Get Down With

One of the many reasons fans of Ina Garten find her so endearing is that she finds a way to make any recipe approachable for home cooks. She's an advocate of using "good" ingredients, utilizing Post-It notes to remember finishing touches for parties, and she reminds us that, in a pinch, "store-bought is fine." As it turns out, however, there is a store-bought item that Garten wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole: grated Parmesan cheese.

There are two reasons she passes on pre-grated Parm. In an episode of her television show, "The Barefoot Contessa," Garten explains, "You have no idea where the cheese is from — it could be a lesser grade of Parmesan cheese, and the second thing is you don't know how long it's been grated, and the fresher it is when it's grated, the better flavor it's going to have."

Garten admittedly adores Parmesan cheese and considers it one of her go-to ingredients in making dishes better. However, she also notes that there is one true, authentic kind called Parmigiano Reggiano that comes from Italy, but it's rather pricey. Because of the relatively inexpensive price of packages of pre-grated Parmesan, it's highly unlikely that they contain the real stuff.

Pre-grated Parmesan doesn't come close to the real deal

While she is upfront about the high cost of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Ina Garten claims that just a little of it can go a long way, therefore purchasing a chunk could last a relatively long time. For convenience, Garten will take her wedge, cut it into chunks (not the rind, but you can freeze it or put it in pasta sauces for excellent flavor), and blitzes it into a fine consistency, much like the shaker containers of Parmesan you'd find in stores.

Garten acknowledges that a less-expensive alternative to Parmigiano Reggiano is Grana Padano, which has a similar texture and flavor to the former. It's nutty, salty, and can be used anywhere that you'd otherwise use Parmigiano Reggiano. Other alternative cheeses include Pecorino Romano, which is saltier and a little softer, and Asiago, which is noticeably sharper but has a similar texture, as it is also considered to be a hard cheese.

Ina's double dose of Parmigiano Reggiano

In true Ina Garten-style, the best-selling cookbook author uses Parmigiano Reggiano (an unequivocally "good" ingredient) in a very simple way when it comes to entertaining. She has been open about the fact that some of her favorite hors d'oeuvres to serve with drinks don't require any cooking, and the two ways she preps her Parm for get-togethers certainly fit into the mix. 

First, Garten will take a large wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano and cut off bite-sized shards for guests to nibble on and also grates the cheese using a box grater so she gets thin ribbons. She also forms the cheese into tablespoon-sized circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bakes them until the cheese has melted. Once cooled, the cheese becomes crispy little cheese circles, perfect for enjoying with drinks.

While pre-grated Parmesan is not to be found in Garten's Hamptons abode, there are plenty of other store-bought items that get her stamp of approval, including mayonnaise, jams, pasta sauces, pesto, and chocolate sauce. However, she still prefers to make her own breadcrumbs and ricotta cheese.