Photo: Riccardo Piazza

I have a confession to make:

I am in love with Parmigiano Reggiano.


I have a confession to make: I am in love with Parmigiano Reggiano.

Chef Michele Casadei Massari moved to New York in 2009, opened his restaurant Lucciola, and is now considered one of the most respected Italian chefs in New York City. Starting in 2020, Michele has accepted the role of US Brand Ambassador for Parmigiano Reggiano. In this interview he tells us about why he fell in love with what is widely considered a true masterpiece of Italian cuisine and an icon of Italian culture.



What was it like to grow up in Italy?

I was born in Riccione, a wonderful little town on the Adriatic coast with beautiful sandy beaches. In the summer it attracts families as well as many young people. I spent my early years there, enjoying fun in the sun – and sampling the many delicacies from that region. Later, my father moved to Bologna to study medicine at the University of Bologna. Because of him, I became interested in science and health and ended up following in his footsteps. By the way, I fell in love with this beautiful medieval city which has an incredible culinary tradition and a stellar reputation as a foodie’s paradise. Bologna is the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region where some of Italy’s best pasta dishes, meats, cheeses, and wines come from – including Parmigiano Reggiano! It was here (and through my grandfather who was an amazing cook) that I started to learn what makes this cheese so special….and the more I learned, the more I fell in love with it.


Bologna is known for its history, its architecture, and its great cuisine..


You studied medicine, but you became a chef?

I get asked that question all the time! I actually loved (and still love) medicine. The truth is that I am naturally curious about many, many subjects – technology, art, films, music, design. But, science has always been one of the items on top of my list…especially physics and genetics. I started to study medicine because I wanted to help people with their health. Thanks to my medical studies I began to realize the impact that food has on our health, our planet, our happiness, etc. I learned that EVERYTHING is connected…and, I guess that being in Italy also helped because our traditions go back for many centuries. Anyhow, I decided to combine my two biggest loves, “cooking” with “science” and pursue a career in the culinary arts – so I could explore how to combine innovation with tradition, science with the art of cooking – and ultimately how great food could change the way you feel – for the better.

This is one of the many reasons I am excited about being a part of the Parmigiano Reggiano team.

There is no other cheese like it in the world. It is not just delicious…it is actually NUTRITIOUS. Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano is made with three simple ingredients that are ALL natural: milk, salt, and rennet. And, it has absolutely ZERO additives and NO preservatives. Because of these factors and due to its unique aging process, Parmigiano Reggiano is an excellent source of nutrients such as calcium, amino acids, protein, and vitamins. It is EXACTLY the kind of food that we should be eating to live healthier, happier lives.


Why did you decide to move to New York?

Well…like I said earlier my curiosity extends pretty far. Travel is one of my passions. Even as a kid, I always wanted to explore the world. From Bologna I moved to Bali…where I started a family and traveled across the Far East, visiting countries like Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore…and learned about the way people cook and eat in that part of the world. At some point, I realized that if I was going to build a career as a chef I needed to go to a place that is known around the world for some of the best food on the planet. I briefly considered Paris and Hong Kong…but I quickly decided that New York offered me the best opportunity to be challenged, learn, and make a difference. New York is a veritable Mecca for foodies, but it also attracts artists, film-makers, architects, etc. It’s a place where new trends and new ideas are introduced…so it was a perfect place for me to introduce new ideas about food to the American people.

By the way, often new ideas are rooted in very old traditions.
Which brings me back to Parmigiano Reggiano.

This cheese has been made the same way for almost 1,000 years – yet is perfect for today’s world. Like I said earlier, it provides important nutrients that help maintain a healthy body, which is super important during a time when all of us feel more vulnerable than ever. On top of that, we live in an era when people care about simplicity, honesty, and authenticity – and Parmigiano Reggiano is all of these things. Lastly, given that these days people stay home and cook more than ever, people want to experience foods that make even the simplest everyday meal a little more special, and Parmigiano Reggiano is perfect for that. Add a little Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to your meal and you will feel transported to Italy and what could be more special than that?


What are your proudest moments?

The birth of my daughter, Maitri, is probably the most important moment of my life…I am so proud of her. She is perfect and fills my love with joy and excitement. I’ve always known that being a parent is a huge responsibility…but what I learned is that it is a wonderful opportunity to learn even more about what love truly feels like.

Michele and his daughter, Maitri – one of his biggest sources of pride and inspiration.

Also, opening my restaurant, Lucciola, in the Upper West Side of New York was a very exciting time. The name and design of the restaurant were inspired by the film “Festa di Laurea,” directed by Pupi Avati. I am a big fan of this classic Italian movie…and the restaurant design reflects the nostalgic and romantic mood of Bologna depicted in that film – especially his famous courtyard scene, where the simple illumination was reminiscent of Fireflies.

Lastly, I am super excited and very, very proud of my recent role as the US Brand Ambassador for Parmigiano Reggiano.

Think about it…Parmigiano Reggiano is practically a national treasure in Italy. It is a name that is synonymous with the best of Italian food. It is an icon of the best that Italy has to offer. It is a symbol of our respect for tradition, our passion for quality, and our commitment to perfection. In Italy we consider it a “CAPOLAVORO”…a “MASTERPIECE”. As a chef, as an Italian, to represent this amazing brand in the US it is truly an honor. I am sincerely in love with Parmigiano Reggiano!

Photo: Riccardo Piazza

Michele proudly wears his new chef’s jacket, emblazoned with the Parmigiano Reggiano logo.


Why exactly do you love Parmigiano Reggiano?

Besides all that I just explained? Well, actually there are so many reasons that I could talk for hours about it. First of all, you must realize that Parmigiano Reggiano delivers a far superior experience than other cheeses, because of where and how it is made.

It all starts with the terrain where the cows live. Parmigiano Reggiano is a DOP product – which means that it must be made from beginning to end in a very special region of Italy where the earth, the water, the very air shapes the distinctive taste of the cheese. Of course, cheese is made with milk…and in the case of Parmigiano Reggiano the cows can only be fed forage grown from this region. Other cheeses are not subject to this type of rigor.

If you understand science you will know that every single detail will affect the end result. This kind of passion and commitment is what makes this cheese so special. The secret ingredient is the pride that drives the dairies, and the farmers, and the cheesemongers to all work together – according to ancient artisanal traditions for the ultimate goal…to make the best cheese in the world – Parmigiano Reggiano!


What are your goals as US Ambassador for the brand?

One of my first goals is to help US consumers understand that many of them are missing out from experiencing the incredible flavor of real Parmigiano Reggiano – let alone all the health benefits! Probably the biggest challenge faced by the brand is that most Americans have difficulty pronouncing the words “Parmigiano Reggiano”…it’s a long name with many consonants that is difficult to say.

Even well-traveled folks who know Parmigiano Reggiano sometimes end up buying a cheese that is not the real thing. One of the most important things I can do is try and help people understand that there is a huge difference between the real thing (Parmigiano Reggiano) and the many ordinary cheeses which are often made with additives – including cellulose.

More than anything, I want to help people understand that by eating better food they will be healthier, live longer, and feel happier – and eating real Parmigiano Reggiano is the perfect way to start focusing on living a fuller, better life. So, I will be introducing some new (and very healthy) recipes, as well as some exceptional pairings, too.

I look forward to what I can do as part of the Parmigiano Reggiano team, and I am sincerely excited about the positive impact we can make on the lives of people in the US (and the world).