I have already been a huge fan of Parmigiano Reggiano and enjoyed it in many plates in my favorite Italian restaurants in Dubai and while living in Rome, but I was very excited to both learn how the cheese is made and to see the process with my own eyes. Needless to say, I was absolutely ecstatic to go on a trip to Parma.
What is Parma famous for?
Parma is a beautiful historical city located in Emilia-Romagna region. It is famous for its gastronomical tradition and two specialties – Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, both given Protected Designation of Origin status.
What is Parma like?
Parma is a very charming city with loads of history and tradition. It is obviously a gem for any food lover and it also has a lot to offer to those interested in art and architecture.
Torrechiara castle is a 15th-century castle near Langhirano, in the province of Parma, northern Italy. It sits atop a terraced hill south of the city of Parma. Its rooms are decorated with many colorful frescos with both naturalistic and grotesque elements.
How is Parmigiano Reggiano made?
Parmigiano Reggiano is produced exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna to the left of the Reno river, and Mantua to the right of the Po river: this is the area hosting the farms where the cattle are fed on locally grown forage.
The milk from the morning and the previous evening is poured into the traditional upturned bell-shaped copper vats. It takes about 550 litres of milk to produce each wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. The milk slowly and naturally coagulates with the addition of rennet and a whey starter, rich in starter cultures, from the previous day’s processing.
The curd which forms is then broken down by the master cheese-maker into minuscule granules using a traditional tool called “spino”.
This is where fire comes into the picture, in a cooking process which reaches 55 degrees centigrade, after which the cheesy granules sink to the bottom of the cauldron forming a single mass.
After about fifty minutes the cheese-maker removes the cheese mass which will give rise to two twin wheels.
Cut into two parts and wrapped in the typical linen cloth, the cheese is then placed in a mould which will give it its final shape.
After a few days, the wheels are immersed in a saturated solution of water and salt: it is a process of salting by osmosis. This last passage closes the production cycle of Parmigiano Reggiano and starts its maturation period.
How is the “king of cheeses” stored?
The minimum maturation time is 12 months, the longest among all the PDO cheeses, and only at this point can it be decided if each individual wheel is worthy of the name it was given at its birth, and therefore continue the maturation up to 24, 36, 40 months and more.
The older cheeses are called stravecchio (“extra-aged”). These are aged between two and three years, and they develop incredible depth of flavor. Some producers age wheels even longer. After four years, Parmigiano-Reggiano can take on notes of mushroom, spices, dried fruit, beef and tobacco. A few producers have aged wheels up to 12 years.
Quality Inspection of Parmigiano Reggiano
After 12 months, the Consortium experts carry out a test called “quality inspection” on all the wheels: each wheel is tapped with a hammer and the trained ear of the quality inspector recognises any defects inside the cheese that may compromise quality.
The conforming wheels are marked with the hot-iron brand thus becoming Parmigiano Reggiano. All identifying marks and signs are removed from any wheels which do not meet the PDO requirements.
Creating a perfect cheese platter with Parmigiano Reggiano
If you love cheese platters as much as I do-then you will definitely enjoy creating a picture perfect one yourself. There are no rules but it is best to pair the cheese with seasonal fruits, nuts, jams and honey. Mix up the cheese of different age and you are guaranteed a fun gastronomical adventure and a good conversation. Cheese platters are equally great for a family get together or a romantic date. Just pair the cheese with a bottle of sparkling Lambrusco (another favorite from Parma) or a strong-bodied red like Amarone (ciao Verona) for older cheese and you are in for a treat.
Pro tip: a few drops of authentic aged balsamic vinegar can enhance Parmigiano-Reggiano’s flavors without overwhelming them.
Dining in Parma
Food lovers will enjoy discovering local trattorias and piatti tipici (traditional dishes) like Torta Fritta (Gnocchi Fritto in Modena), tortellini with pumpkin and fried polenta. Parmigiano Reggiano is often served as a starter and can be found in most pastas and risottos.
Make sure you also try the sparkling Lambrusco as well as traditional gelato.
After this trip I definitely learnt to appreciate Parmigiano Reggiano even more and it became a must-have at home. I am happy to have introduced it in my family and look forward to trying more dishes with it.
To learn more about Parmigiano Reggiano visit the official website https://www.parmigianoreggiano.com