By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 10, 2008 at 5:27 AM

You're American, so you can be forgiven if you grew up mixing up Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with that flavorless white stuff flaking out of a cardboard cylinder onto your plate of spaghetti.

But we're all adults and you oughta know by now that Parmigiano-Reggiano is a cow's milk cheese made in specific areas of Northern Italy. That cheese is nutty, salty complex and packed with flavor.

If you want to know more, there's no better event in Milwaukee for you than Whole Foods' "Crack Heard Around the World," at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 12. That's when 270 Whole Foods Markets around the country simultaneously crack open their wheels of fresh, new Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and offer samples to customers, along with samples of Italian wines and other Italian cheeses.

"If you've never had Parmesan-Reggiano right after the wheel is cracked, you are really missing out on a treat," says Whole Foods' Autumn Faughn. "It's amazing when it's super fresh like we have it here at the store. As the Team Member does the cutting, he or she passes out samples of the smaller pieces that break off. It's got a great nutty and salty taste. I really love it this way, if you can't tell."

The event will also be an attempt at a world record for, well, Parmigiano Reggiano wheel cracking, I guess.

The cracking, carving and portioning of the 85-pound wheel -- accomplished with the five traditional Italian cheese knives -- takes about half an hour.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is made according to traditions that are nearly a millennium old and only examples made in an area roughly bordered by Reggio Emilia, Parma (once a Milwaukee sister city), Modena, Bologna and Madison's sister city Mantova can officially use the protected name "Parmigiano-Reggiano" and can get the official seal of the Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium, which guarantees quality and authenticity.

"From across the ocean it gives the producers of Parmigiano Reggiano great satisfaction to know that the work of their hands and the labor of their lives is appreciated for its place of origin, its quality, and its health giving," said Giuseppe Alai, president of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano. "With their ‘crack heard around the world,' they will become an important part of the passion and history that has preserved the integrity of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for this and future generations to enjoy."

Faughn says the Whole Foods team is looking forward to the event and is getting into the spirit already.

"Greg, our Specialty Team Leader, told me he has some Italian loafers he's going to wear that day," she notes, "just to have fun with it."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.