academia barilla  January 2007

How Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is made

Whether you eat it grated over a pasta dish, or into your [...]

Parmigiano-Reggiano productionWhether you eat it grated over a pasta dish, or into your risotto during the crematura, or simply with aged traditional Balsamic Vinegar atop it, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is one of the greatest tastes to come out of la Bella Italia.Its production is also a great thing – carried down by years of tradition and excellence. Let’s examine how true Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is made, and where exactly it comes from.

Historians first noted the nutty, granular cheese of the area between Parma and Reggio-Emilia in the region of Emilia-Romagna about a millennium ago. It is said that famed Tuscan writer Boccaccio even incorporated references to Parmigiano in his famous Decameron.

Since those days, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese has continued to capture the hearts, minds, and mouths, of many an Italian, European, and global citizen.

Parmigiano-ReggianoThe DOP Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese production of today comes from farms in a limited area between the towns of Parma and Reggio-Emilia, with a line extending out in the directions of Modena, Bologna and Mantova.

More often than not, farms in this area employ the lactic help of the Reggiana Red Cow, or mucca rossa reggiana, for the production of milk for Parmigiano. These cows must feed on grass and hay and are allows to graze the many hills in the Emilia region.

Academia Barilla is proud to select only cheeses made with latte di collina, or “milk from the hills.” This means that the Reggiana Red Cows are allowed to go to pasture in the hills and mountains of the area, and therefore are able to graze on finer grasses. In essence, Academia Barilla uses “Free range” milk for its Parmigiano-Reggiano!

Cows are milked twice a day for Parmigiano milk – once in the morning, and again in the evening. The evening milk is eventually skimmed overnight, and then is combined with full-fat milk from the morning milking to start the production of Parmigiano.

Academia Barilla’s website has a great photo gallery of a traditional cheesemaking with the latte di collina – click here to view.

Nonetheless, this load of milk is then funneled into cone-shaped tubs of about 300 gallon capacity and is warmed while rennet is added to induce coagulation. Here’s where the real artistry takes over: an Academia Barilla Maestro Caseario, “master cheesemaker”, then has his hand at the Parmigiano, and uses a technical instrument called the spino to break up the clotting milk curds into the rice-like granules that will later become hard, nutty, and perfect to grate over un bel piatto di pasta!

At this point, the curds are lifted out of the copper vat and placed to drain – from this comes the whey of Parmigiano, which also has a special use, but more on that in a later blogpost, perhaps. The curds are placed into a huge flax cloth and are cut in half to form the gemelli – twins. These twin wheels will then be shaped by hand and machine to form their wheel shape.

After a few days rest, the wheels have formed a hard outer shell and are then given an imprint of PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO, as well as a healthy dose of salt. The wheels are placed into a saline solution, a brine of sorts, for up to 30 days. This is the only preservative that Academia Barilla uses in the production of its authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Last comes the aging process: Parmigiano-Reggiano has to be aged at least 12 months in order to be considered DOP Parmigiano-Reggiano. At this point, an appointed cheese-tester from the Consorzio DOP Parmigiano-Reggiano comes by to inspect each wheel of cheese. (If you think I have an OK job, you should only meet these guys! Lucky! Testing cheese for a living – whew!)

With a small hammer, the expert inspector taps the cheese, checking for cracks or imperfections. His ear is so well-tuned to the intricacies of cheese that he can sense when a cheese does not make the grade. If it does, it then may be ready for sale.

In some cases, cheeses can be left to age even further. After 18 months, Parmigiano-Reggiano gets the title “Vecchio” . Give it another few months, and, at age 2 years, or 24 months, the wheels attain “Stravecchio” status, meaning that they are extra old.

Learn more about Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, this re dei formaggi, on the Academia Barilla website.

Parmigiano-Reggiano full wheel

Be sure to check out Academia Barilla’s excellent online shop, as well, where you can buy 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or even whole traditional Parmesan wheels, perfect if you are a Chef, own a restaurant, or just throw a party with a gourmet buffet!

Alla prossima!

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