Finishing off a wedge of firm cheese like Parmesan, pecorino or Grana Padano doesn't have to be the end of the cheese experience. Though too firm to bite into right now, the rinds are totally edible and packed with flavor — you just have to warm them up. Cheese rinds can be tossed into any number of soupy-stewy dishes to release an extra boost of salty-funkiness. Free flavor: What could be better?
Once I finish a wedge of cheese, I store the rind in an airtight container in the freezer. Frozen, they stay fresh basically indefinitely, so I can just grab a couple when whatever’s on the stove starts to simmer. Which dishes can you add cheese rinds to? The limit mostly doesn’t exist. Basically, if it comes to a boil, you might as well add rinds. Chicken or tomato soup; coconut milk-based curries, meaty, fishy or veg-heavy stews; pots of beans cooked from dry with aromatics; poultry, seafood, meat or vegetable stock (they’re especially great in sweet corn-cob stock), rich tomato sauce, creamy risotto, long braises of meat; they all benefit from a tossed-in rind — or three.
But perhaps the simplest use for a plethora of rinds rinds, especially from good Parmesan, is to make Parm broth. Once you’ve stashed about a pound of rinds, add them to a stockpot with an olive-oil browned onion and halved head of garlic (if you happen to have celery, carrot and/or fennel, add those too). Fill the pot with a couple quarts of water, a handful of peppercorns and woody herbs like thyme, oregano or rosemary, then simmer the broth until it’s reduced and deeply flavorful. Strain and add stir in cooked pasta or beans, or even just sip it as-is.
Another favorite use of mine for cheese rinds is to enhance pasta-cooking water. A good splash of that seasoned water almost always finds its way into my final dish, so why not boost the flavor? Bring the pot of water to a boil with a few cheese rinds, then add pasta and salt, and cook, stirring often, until the pasta’s al dente. Fish out the rinds and set aside (there’s even more you can do with them at this point, so stay tuned). Scoop out the pasta with a spider or slotted spoon into the skillet where you’ve prepared whatever sauce is accompanying your pasta, then add a good glug of pasta-cooking water. Since many classic recipes for Italian pasta dishes — from creamy carbonara and cacio e pepe to zingy Amatriciana and vongole — already call for a cup or so of that starchy liquid, the cheese-enhanced version never disappoints.
Say you can't bear to toss cheese rinds even after using them in one of the above applications. You’ve now softened them into a snack. Post-simmer, you'll find they've become a gooey mass that's safe (and tasty!) to eat on a cracker or piece of toast. But if you’d prefer to just snack on the rinds, sans-simmer, they can actually be toasted like marshmallows for a few minutes over the stove or under the broiler. And if I can offer one final piece of advice: drizzle with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil before devouring.