Parmigiano Reggiano Celebrates the Intersection of Food & Design

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For the past two years, the Parmigiano Reggiano Design Challenge has invited professional designers and students to enter product designs that elevate the rituals of cooking and enjoying food. In other words, this competition focuses on the magic that happens at the intersection between food and design.

Raising awareness and changing perceptions

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is well-known as one of the staples of Italian cuisine. What most Americans don’t realize is that this cheese has been proudly made in the same region of Italy for almost 1,000 years using virtually the same processes and ingredients that were used centuries ago, when it was first made. “According to our research, a vast number of American consumers confuse Parmigiano Reggiano with parmesan cheeses not made in Italy,” said Alfredo Muccino of Solid Branding, the agency tasked with expanding awareness of Parmigiano Reggiano in the US. “This is a major challenge for the brand. We started this competition to educate consumers about how and why Parmigiano Reggiano is different and unique.”

Why a Design Competition?

According to Muccino, “A cheese that sponsors a design competition may seem strange, but that is precisely the point we’re trying to make. Parmigiano Reggiano is not just any cheese— it is a true masterpiece of Italian culture.” Of course, Italy is known for many things: the natural beauty of its landscapes, amazing food, sexy cars, fashion, and much more. Design is definitely part of that equation.

This year, the competition brief invited designers to submit products that took into account three of Parmigiano Reggiano’s important differentiators:

  • Commitment to biodiversity
  • Strict aging requirements
  • Zero waste principles

The themes for the competition were inspired by the guidelines that contribute to the cheese’s distinctive flavor and texture (besides the fact that it must be made in Italy, according to very strict rules). The submissions included products used to cook and enrich a meal, and the entries ranged from graters and cutting boards to tables, chairs, and lamps.

The Best of Show Winner celebrates the idea of Zero Waste

The competition yielded a total of 12 Winners, including Gold, Silver, and Bronze Awards. The Best of Show award went to John “Jack” Elliott, the Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Human Centered Design at the College of Human Ecology, Cornell University in New York. He won for his Matassa lamp, which was inspired by the long, thin, tangled look of a ball of tagliolini pasta. Elliott describes Matassa as “a sculptural light fixture that offers a softly diffused lighting source by which to enjoy a perfectly cooked pasta, made more savory with a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.”

Beyond the nice aesthetic quality of the lamp, its sustainability is what makes it truly unique— Elliott used the fabrication waste from one part of the product as a component in the same product. More specifically, he repurposed the scraps from machining the aluminum ceiling holder as the lamp diffuser, resulting in zero waste. The aluminum stock also comes from 100% post-consumer content, and the bulb is a full spectrum LED, in keeping with the focus on environmental responsibility. As an added bonus, the product components that cannot be reused can be recycled at its end-of-life.

The idea of biodiversity was expanded into diversity and inclusivity

In addition to examining the idea of zero waste, submission accounted for the notion of diversity in a variety of ways. A couple of awards went to entries that make it easier for those with visual impairments to participate in the joys of cooking and sharing meals with family and friends. Chinese-Dutch designer Boey Wang created one such example called “Haptics of Cooking,” a set of products that include a cutting board, a touch-safe lid, a short knife, and a tactile measuring cup. Haptics, of course, is the science and technology of transmitting and understanding information through touch, and Wang designed his tools to guide visually impaired people through the cooking process by leveraging response mechanisms triggered by tactile cues. This solution offers an inventive approach to enhance the independence of people in the visually impaired community.

One entry used ease of repair to leverage the concept of aging

Designer and University of Chicago professor Rotimi Solola won an award for HUB, a modular, multi-purpose appliance with an elegantly integrated design. “I wanted to create a solution that would reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing appliances that serve only one purpose,” Solola said. “Additionally, HUB is designed to be extremly easy to diagnose and service which empowers consumers to fix the product if something goes wrong as opposed to throwing it away, therefore extending the longevity of the product and reducing waste.