The Location Northern Italy is the home of Parmigiano Reggiano and can only be made within the legally designation of: Reggio Emilia, Parma and Modena; west of the Reno River in Bologna and east of the Po River in Mantua. These different climates and locations range from rolling hills to beautiful flat plains and create the authentic Parmigiano Reggiano that the world enjoys today. Although Parmigiano Reggiano has been made the same way for over eight centuries, the seasons and its flavorful agriculture return a unique quality of Cow’s Milk that gives this handcrafted cheese its seasonal uniqueness. Traditionally Parmigiano is usually made in small quantities, eight or twelve wheels at a time following the original recipe. Within its legal designation there are about 400 cheese houses that are family owned and where the cheese is made and aged properly.
Cheese Masters The process to make this cheese has been handed down from Cheese Master to Cheese Master using the same handcrafted (never manufactured) process. The traditional way to make Parmigiano Reggiano starts with two consecutive milking, once in the morning and once in the evening. The milk is supplied by local family run dairies in controlled districts. The late milking is left overnight to naturally separate where the cream is skimmed off. The partially skimmed milk is added to the morning’s whole milk then added to large Copper Pots. Fermenting whey is then added and the mixture is heated until proper temperature is reached. Calf’s rennet is added and soon after coagulation begins, this process allows the cheese curd to separate and the liquid left behind is the whey. The process starts over by breaking down the curds with a large whisk to small bits and then brought back to an exact temperature. Once this temperature is reached the process is allowed to settle to the bottom of the kettle. The mass is raised to the top and separated into two pieces. Each piece is wrapped into a cheese cloth and then placed into wooden molds. After a few hours, the cheese cloth is removed and then stamped with a production number and date. The cheese is then brined for about a month, sun dried and stored in climate sensitive rooms to be aged.
Ageing Process The cheese is carefully watched and inspected on a daily schedule where it’s brushed and turned. This high inspection assures their compliance for the maturation process. This process is called DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) and has been used for over 70 years. Parmigiano Reggiano minimum ageing time is one year where the cheese is professionally evaluated for aroma, color and its structure. Once it passes this evaluation it’s then branded with the Consorzio Tutela Parmigiano Reggiano of approval. There are three different aging dates; over 18 months, over 22 months and over 30 months.
The Seasons The Cow’s diet is strictly enforced and watched closely to ensure every delivery of milk is a natural complete product without preservatives or additives. Parmigiano Reggiano is made all year round and is classified into the four seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter. The two extreme times of the year, winter and summer causes the cheese to have a noticeable difference, during the warm months butter fat rises to the surface of the wheel whereas in the winter, it remains deep within. Regardless, the most important change in the ageing process is when the milk proteins breakdown and amino acids begin to form, this is where Parmigiano gets its distinctive texture.
•Spring season (March, April, May) bring cloudy, rainy days with warm afternoons, which in return cause fresh variety of new grasses and wild flowers which is very inviting for hungry cows. This variety produces tinted milk which adds a hue and aroma to the wheels.
•Summer season (June, July, August) is filled with long, sunny hot days with random showers which cause the land to become much more concentrated. Summer aging causes the cheese to rapidly sweat and dry faster; this creates a drier more concentrated cheese.
•Fall season (September, October, November) is very similar to the spring season where the rapid cooling effects of the rain with warm days create the lush grasses, which in return gives the cows a variety of fresh, high flavored diet. It is also the only time of the year where the natural casein level in the milk is at its highest. Parmigiano Reggiano is best aged in this time of year, as the temperature has a perfect balance for long, slow aging.
•Winter season (December, January, February) the land is much colder and the days are shorter giving the sun a short time to warm the land. The cows feast on hay and straw which gives the cow’s milk a pale or whiter cheese. This cheese is softer and flavorful with a fruity aroma.
Eating, Cooking with Parmigiano Reggiano
Parmigiano Reggiano is a flaky cheese that has a grainy texture with finishing fruit flavors and creaminess, works well with a Nebbiolo or Sangiovese Grape that has been aged properly or a grape from its own region which both the cheese and the grape share the same climate and soil. Pairs perfectly with fruits like pears and figs finished with Crema Balsamic Vinegar. Try it with a high-end honey and walnuts, where the sweetness and bitterness are perfectly balanced. Parmigiano is perfect shaved over your favorite salad; try it with dried cranberries, nuts and a glass of white wine. Beer lovers should know that this cheese goes great with a crisp lager (try it with Prosciutto San Daniele). However you eat this amazing cheese make sure you wrap your unused piece tightly in saran-wrap leaving no air and then in a Ziplock bag. When you buy at your store, make sure the piece is either vacuum sealed or wrapped tightly, remember, oxidation takes effect as soon as the wheel is cracked open.