The Internet-Famous Parmesan Espresso Martini Is an Unexpected Delight
Almost every cocktail menu has an espresso martini these days. The iconic 80s and 90s libation is officially back on top, with videos tagged #espressomartini racking up more than 311 million views on TikTok. The drink trend has even spawned spin-offs like the pumpkin spice espresso martini, the frozen espresso martini and even our Wednesday Addam’s-inspired quad cocktail.
But a new espresso martini variant may just take the cake. Behold the Parmesan espresso martini—which is exactly what it sounds like. The drink seems to have shaken social media to its core, with videos tagged #parmesan-espresso-martini climbing to more than a staggering 328 million views. They often follow a similar format: The unlikely cocktail is sipped at first with great hesitation, only to win over the drinker, who responds with pleasure and shock.
But before we get carried away, we have to ask: Is this unholy marriage of coffee and cheese actually good, or is it just an overhyped internet trend?
What Is a Parmesan Espresso Martini?
As its name suggests, the TikTok version of the drink is generally an espresso martini topped with a blanket of thinly-grated Parmesan cheese. But other curious drinkers are experimenting with the format.
What Does a Parmesan Espresso Martini Taste Like?
What’s a New York City restaurant to do when a cocktail breaks the internet? You put it on the menu. At least that’s the thinking at Upper West Side spot Lucciola, which will soon put a Parmigiano Reggiano espresso martini in rotation.
While most online videos involve making a classic, vodka-based espresso martini and grating Parmesan directly atop it, Lucciola’s recipe instead uses Parmigiano Reggiano-infused vodka.
“The result is a smooth, umami-laced elixir that permeates the entire drink for a lasting experience—opposed to simply grating some overtop, which dulls the intense flavor of the cheese,” reads a press release from the restaurant. A few more shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano are also floated atop the drink for good measure.
When this reporter had the opportunity to taste the drink, needless to say, I was hesitant. I’m not typically a vodka drinker and, though I love coffee, I find most espresso martinis to be too sweet for my savory-leaning palate. But, in the name of science (and my job) I gave it a try—and I was pleasantly surprised.
On the nose, I got mostly salty cheese, but the first sip was surprisingly smooth and reminiscent of a creamy, cold-brew coffee with just a subtle sweetness. The cheese also landed a hint of nutmeg on the palate, not the overwhelming cheesiness I was expecting. Instead, the combination of cheese and coffee was a beautiful balance of sweet, salty, sour, umami and bitter notes. The blood orange-wiped rim—to which more grated Parmigiano Reggiano was attached—helped bring out the citrus and bitter notes in the coffee.
Why It Works
As I sipped on the cocktail, I had a deep moment reminiscent of the pivotal scene in Ratatouille, in which a dish rockets the critic back to a moment in time. I recalled cozy Sunday mornings sipping iced coffee and eating an egg and cheese on a bagel. Coffee and cheese are already in my regular food rotation, and I hadn’t even noticed it. No wonder the combo works so well.
“The enticing aroma and Parmigiano Reggiano’s diverse notes and flavors effortlessly complement and elevate coffee’s taste and scent,” concurs Chef Michele Casadei Massari, an ambassador for the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium who helped create the drink for Lucciola. “This fusion creates a harmonious blend of earthy, nutty and smoky espresso notes, resulting in a captivating, long-lasting aromatic delight.”
How to Make a Parmesan Espresso Martini
Recipe by Chef Michele Casadei Massari
Finely grate Parmigiano Reggiano to cover a small plate. Rub the blood orange slice on the rim of a martini glass and discard. Roll the glass rim onto the plate of Parmigiano Reggiano until fully coated. Combine the infused vodka, coffee liqueur and espresso in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a glass. Garnish with thick Parmigiano Reggiano shavings.
To Make the Parmigiano Reggiano-Infused Vodka:
Place all ingredients in a mason jar, shake well and store overnight in the fridge. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
What Cheese Goes with an Espresso Martini?
A deeply salty, tangy and flavorful cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano works best to stand up against the flavors of coffee and liquor. Any similar hard, salty cheese will work in a pinch.
What Is the White Foam in an Espresso Martini?
A good cup of freshly brewed espresso naturally has a layer of foam at the top. When you vigorously shake up the espresso with sweetened coffee liqueur, it will naturally build a layer of creamy, white foam at the top of the glass. If you’re struggling to get that iconic layer, you may need to shake your cocktail more to allow the air bubbles to build.
What’s the Difference Between a White Russian and Espresso Martini?
An espresso martini is typically some combination of espresso, vodka and coffee liquor. A White Russian also includes coffee liqueur and vodka but typically does not include fresh coffee. White Russians also use cream and are stirred, not shaken.
What Do You Pair with a Parmesan Espresso Martini?
When drinking, pair the drink with equally umami-forward cheese dishes to help bring out the cheesiness of the drink. Lucciola served theirs alongside focaccia-style bread topped with stracciatella and truffles, a light green salad with roasted tomatoes and zucchini cooked in tomato sauce and topped with stracciatella and more Parmigiano Reggiano.