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Parmigiano Reggiano: the king of cheeses is always trending

Parmigiano Reggiano is the most famous and appreciated Italian cheese in the world. It’s perfect for fanciful appetizers, as a dressing for tasty recipes, as an ingredient for complicated preparations and as a decoration for the most creative chefs.

We don’t know for sure when Parmigiano was born, but it is believed that its origin goes back at least to the 12th century when, between Parma and Reggio Emilia, among the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries, were built the first caselli, small buildings intended for the milk processing. It is known that already in the 13th century, the Parmigiano was a very well appreciated and acknowledged cheese, so much that we can find it mentioned in recipe books and documents from that time. Almost 900 years passed, but the Parmigiano Reggiano is still prepared with the same techniques and the same natural ingredients: milk, rennet and salt.

It’s a PDO hard cheese with a long maturation period, whose genuineness is protected by a producers’ association established in 1934: this institution guarantees, through strict controls, that the product stays all natural, without additives or preservatives, also setting up firm regulations on the nutrition of cows from the farms. The production region of this cheese is very defined: it consists of the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, the district of Bologna West of the Reno river and the one of Mantua South of the Po river. The number of parmesan producers in this piece of land is around 360.

The milk from the evening milking is left to rest until the following morning so that the fat part, used to produce butter, spontaneously emerges. In the morning, the milked and the skimmed milk are poured in typical copper boilers, then calf rennet and whey, rich in lactic starters, are added to start coagulation. After about 10 minutes the curd is ready and it’s chipped in many small grains with an appropriate instrument used since the ancient days. The milk is then heated up to 55°C so that the grains create a mass on the bottom of the boiler. After approximately an hour, this mass is recollected and divided in two pieces, wrapped up and put in a container to give the shape we all know. It usually weighs 40 kilos, and it takes about 550 liters of milk to produce it.

To this wheel of cheese it is affixed a casein label, on which a unique and progressive number is printed, just like an identity document. The month and year of production, the factory’s serial number and the typical dotted writing are printed on the cheese after a few hours. After a couple days, when it is finally branded and labeled, the wheel of cheese is immersed in a saturated solution consisting of salt and water. Within a month the cheese is ready for the aging process. The aging will take at least 12 months, during which the exterior part of the cheese dries off and becomes a natural and edible crust.

After the first year, the experts from the Consortium analyze each wheel of cheese, branding with the Protected Designation of Origin only the ones with the right requisites and rejecting the other ones. Among the appropriate wheels, there are some which are ready for consumption: this “fresh” Parmigiano Reggiano, aged only 12 months, is called Mezzadro. The other wheels of cheese are kept aging. Parmesan aged at least 18 months is marked with a lobster-colored stamp. The ones with a 22 months aging are recognizable thanks to a silver-colored stamp, while Parmesan aged 30 months and over shows a golden-colored stamp.

This is a long and successful story of one of Made in Italy’s world flagships, which is born in our Emilia. We couldn’t choose better stuffing for our tortellini!

(Giacomo Schirò)

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