Parmigiano Reggiano……Origin & Ancient Traditions.

By Simon  , , ,   

September 29, 2014

Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of Italian cheese. Let's get to the heart of the matter, loved worldwide, steeped in ancient traditions, its amazing creation process, ageing, texture and taste, oh the taste !!!!! intensely pure, a rich deep adult saltiness, grab a chunck see how your taste buds come alive and start to dance on your tongue. Amazing on is own and a truly wonderful culinary ingredient, image a simple ragu with fresh pasta and a scattering of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano bringing the whole dish to life.....

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Parmigiano Reggiano: 7 centuries and counting

Ancient Traditions.

Parmigiano Reggiano D.O.P. has been made in the same area, using the same techniques for over 700 years. By law, the King of Cheeses comes from only 5 provinces: Parma, Modena, Bologna, Reggio Emilia (all located in the region of Emilia Romagna) and Mantua (in Lombardia). But regardless of its birthplace, each wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano must be produced according to precise methods.

The life of a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano begins with two successive milkings of specific breeds of cattle, including vacche rosse – an ancient breed of red cows. The cattle are grazed on a very strict diet of natural, local forage. This makes the milk they produce pure, rich in nutrients, and distinctive in flavor.

The Art of the Casaro.

The evening milk that arrives at the cheese factory is skimmed and stored overnight. In the morning, newly arrived fresh whole milk is added to the skimmed milk and the Parmigiano Reggiano making gets underway. The milk is heated in large copper vats with leftover whey from the previous day’s cheese making, together with calf rennet, which allows the milk to curdle. The heating process causes the separation of the milk into curds and whey. The casaro - or cheese maker – uses a long handled whisk-like instrument called a spino to break up the curd into tiny pieces.

Parmigiano Reggiano and the spino

The cheesemaker breaks up the curd with a “spino”

After about 15 minutes, the curds are left to settle. During this time, a single curd mass starts to form at the bottom of the vat. After about an hour, the casaro deftly coaxes the curd to the top of the copper vat and wraps it in cheesecloth. He uses a large knife to divide the cheese in equal parts that will eventually become two wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano. By law, each vat can produce no more than two wheels of cheese at any given time.

Each wheel of cheese is then placed in stainless steel moulds, which gives them their distinctive shape. They are then branded with an identification number that indicates the month and year of production as well as the dairy farm where the cheese was produced. The cheese is then soaked in a salt and water solution for almost a month, after which the lengthy ageing process begins.

Parmigiano Reggiano and its distinctive shape

Parmigiano Reggiano gets its distinctive shape to these stainless steel moulds

Ageing the Parmigiano Reggiano

The cheese is stored on wooden shelves in an impressively vast cheese “library”. It must be aged for a minimum of 12 months. At this point, certified experts (battitori) from the Consortium of Parmigiano Reggiano individually inspect the cheese. They tap each wheel of cheese with a special hammer-like instrument, checking mainly for significant air pockets. Cheese with many, large air bubbles cannot be sold as Parmigiano Reggiano. Cheese with small air bubbles will be branded with stripes around the exterior and labeled “Mezzano”, indicating that it is a second grade Parmigiano Reggiano.

Parmigiano Reggiano "Mezzano"

“Mezzano” is branded with stripes around the exterior, indicating a younger, second grade Parmigiano Reggiano

The best cheeses are left to continue ageing. Those aged for over 18 months are labeled with a red seal, those matured for over 22 months are labeled with a silver seal, and those aged over 30 months are awarded a gold seal. The older the cheese is, the stronger and more distinctive the flavor.

Whatever its age, Parmigiano Reggiano remains a prized product, and one of the world’s most loved Italian foods. And at 7 centuries and counting, its ancient origins are definitely worth celebrating!

Recipe Parmesan Tart.





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