Parmigiano Reggiano: the hard cheese among the best known and appreciated for its organoleptic characteristics and nutritional values.
Parmigiano Reggiano: history, manufacture of a unique cheese in the World.
In this post I write about The Real Italian Parmigiano Reggiano even when I call Parmesan Cheese.
Italian Parmesan cheese can be considered the flagship in the Italian making of hard cheeses.
Undoubtedly the most representative and well-known in the world among the grana-type cheeses, it has the protected designation of origin.
History of Parmigiano Reggiano
It is strongly linked to the territory of origin, also about the story.
From the use of natural fodder, to the use of raw milk without adding any additives, the provinces of Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena and Bologna give life to a product so appreciated all over the world.
One of the strengths of this cheese is the goodness, qualitatively high for organoleptic characteristics, which are practically the same as those of several centuries ago.
Tradition of centuries
Produced in the same way as in the past, in the same areas, the quality standard of the making of the product has only evolved, according to what are the modernities offered today: although it is certainly not the technological support that can make the difference in this cheese dairy for a noble tradition.
It was already present in ancient writings by Roman authors, but it is starting from the Middle Ages that we have more information about it.
Making started by the Monks
The manufacturing was introduced by the Abbeys of the Cistercian and Benedictine Monks, in the Po river Valley.
The environmental remediation carried out at the time by the Monks themselves, together with shrewd and skilled farmers, laid the foundations for the production of such a renowned product.
The fodder of the cows
The quality of the product begins with the quality of the forage, passing through the feeding of the cows which then produce the milk.
Forage produced from soils that are still irreplaceable today, to obtain precise organoleptic characteristics of the milk.
Since then it was understood that quantity, strictly linked to the quality of the cattle, was also of fundamental importance.
Suffice it to say that 16 liters of milk are required to obtain one kilogram of cheese (35 lb).
Today, as in the past, the traditional form has a weight of about 40 kg (88 lb), and the account is immediately done: over 600 liters of milk (1.322 lb).
And not just any milk.
Caselli, is an Italian word that derives from casa, home, and are dairy where making the cheese, places dedicated to this aim.
A lot of milk, but that comes from cattle reared and fed as then with very specific criteria: therefore of high quality.
It was in the 12th Century that this dairy began to appear, places where cheese was produced, close to monasteries and castles; they are small buildings with a square or polygonal base, many of which are still visible today in the countryside.
It was in these places that milk processing began.
Double heating of the milk
The wisdom of the Monks made it possible for them to perform real experiments in their laboratories, and got, thanks to the use of double heating of the milk at pre-established temperatures, a cheese able of being preserved for a long time, digestible, from the precious taste.
As the exchange of goods, not only between Italy and Europe, took hold, the forms of Parmigiano Reggiano began to write their history, fascinating anyone who could taste its quality.
Wise fruit of work, carried out with skill, with love, following the entire production chain in detail.
This is the secret of the success of such a delicious cheese.
Making Parmesan Cheese
The quality of the milk has fundamental importance to give life to the cheese.
Therefore, to obtain this milk, it is necessary to feed the cows with fresh, quality fodder, so that it is possible to obtain raw milk that does not require additives, preservatives, or even heat treatments.
The bovine feeding therefore plays a fundamental role, following a whole series of strict sanitary rules.
Milking of cows
The milk used is that relating to the evening and morning milking.
That of the evening is deposited and left to rest in large containers, low and wide, where it remains for the whole night.
In the morning craftsmen proceed to remove the cream that came to the surface, replacing this quantity by adding more milk from the morning milking.
The precise quantities of milk are decided by the skill of the cheesemakers, based on the climatic conditions, the type of milk obtained from milking, and other parameters that probably only the cheesemaker knows well, from experience.
The human factor
From this moment on, however, it is still possible to give an imprint to what will turn out to be the finished product, so the human factor plays an extremely important role, after all as for all stages of processing.
The copper boilers for milk
The milk is placed in special copper boilers with a capacity of 12 quintals, therefore sufficient to produce 2 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Fermented whey, or whey graft, is added to the milk, which is a natural culture of bacterial flora, produced from the whey of the previous processing.
This is a very ancient practice, which is able to give the milk a precise acidity, laying the foundations for proper fermentation.
At this point, there is a heating phase, at about 35° C (95° F), where the milk is mixed so that the heat can be uniformly distributed.
It is time to add the rennet, in this case coming from the calf's stomach, able of causing the coagulation of casein, a protein found in mammalian milk.
The curd is nothing more than the product of this coagulation.
It is precisely this precious curd is broken, worked with the proper tool from the master cheesemaker, an operation that takes place over a slow fire not later than the temperature of 56°C (133°F).
The grain in the shapes
In this way, the cheesemaker begins to obtain the Parmesan cheese from the curd, which, collected from the bottom of the tank, is inserted into a hemp cloth, divided in two, and inserted into the appropriate forms.
Here it rests for three days, continuously turned, before proceeding to salting, by immersion in water and salt, a period that lasts about twenty days.
At this point, the wheels are placed on the wooden boards, in a suitable environment, with temperatures to 18, 20&#deg;C (67°C), where they will rest for at least 12 months (minimum aging), although it is much more appreciated with maturation of Parmesan cheese is from 24 to 36 months.
It is precisely such a prolonged period of aging, which allows triggering those protein transformations, which give the product such particular and qualitatively high organoleptic characteristics.
Organoleptic characteristics of Parmesan cheese
When the cheese is produced during the current year, it is defined:
aged, when its maturation has reached a period ranging from 12 to 18 months;
old, from 18 to 24 months;
extra-old, from 24 to 36 months.
The straw yellow color of the pasta indicates healthy bovine nutrition (fresh fodder), and the goodness of the milk produced.
Color that also varies according to the degree of maturation: a beautiful golden yellow is an indication of aging from very old.
To draw up a correct appraisal, it is, therefore, necessary to pay attention to specific parameters:
1) age: it is found from the date engraved on the shape with a firebrand;
2) aging: correlated with age, but also deducible from the taste and consistency of the pasta;
3) the aroma: the aroma and flavor are characteristic and unmistakable;
4) the crust: about 5 mm thick, of an antique golden yellow color, and is intact;
5) the shape: weighing from 33 to 40 kg (72 to 88 lb).
I suggest you visit the site where you can find the guide to Parmigiano Reggiano.