Gastronomy & territory: behind the scenes of Parmigiano Reggiano production
Updated: Feb 7, 2021
Do you know how to make everyone get along joyfully?
Actually I have an idea and it consists of only three easy steps: 1) to set a huge table, 2) to fill everybody's plate up with pasta with tomato sauce, 3) to sprinkle dishes with grated parmigiano (the more you grate the better!).
If you're interested in gastronomy tourism, don't miss this article about the Production of the famous Parma Ham!
But before springing into action, let's take a step back to learn how Parmigiano Reggiano came into existence!
During my internship at the BCSP Center in Bologna I had the pleasure to take part in a trip to Fidenza and Parma (Emilia-Romagna) with some American students. We set off early in the morning and reached Fidenza around 10.30, perfectly on time for our guided tour at Caseificio Parma 2064!
After taking all the necessary precautions to preserve the hygiene of the place (gloves, plastic bonnet and cape), our guide led us to a warehouse where the Parmigiano Reggiano takes shape.
As soon as we got in, a strong smell of cheese was perceivable, but I assure you my attention promptly slided on typical copper boilers in the shape of an overturned bell.
The milk of the morning and the previous night are poured in those enormous containers, and then mixed with rennet and whey, which are rich in natural lactic ferments.
The mastro casaro (master-cheesemaker) is the one who deals with milk and cheese production. Evidence tells us that his practice dates back to the III millennium BC and that its techniques have been transmitted from generation to generation.
Once suitably stirred with an ancient tool called spino, the mixture cooks at 55 degrees centigrade.
Thanks to heat exposure, the thickest part of the compost falls to the bottom of the boiler forming a single mass. About 50 minutes later, the cheesemaker extracts it and two twin forms emerge.
After a few days, the forms are immersed in a saturated solution made of water and salt, where the process of salting happens by osmosis. The production cycle of Parmigiano Reggiano is concluded and the seasoning period begins.
Believe it or not, in that moment in the Parma 2064 warehouse - 4000 m2 large - there were 23,200 wheels of parmigiano!
Once visited the rooms where all these steps take place, we headed to the store front where we had the chance to taste Parmigiano Reggiano PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) with three different seasonings: 12, 24 and 36 months.
The coolest thing is that straight at the end of our tasting, we were able to buy parmigiano: the feeling of being aware that the product you are taking home is genuine and done on the spot, is priceless.
Obviously I couldn't help myself and I ended up going home with about half a kilo of parmigiano: my family was over the moon!
Why Parmigiano Reggiano is so special?
The caseificio, as the other ones of the area, is located in an exclusive production site: the Parmesan produced in this region is not comparable to any others made anywhere else in the world. That's because the core ideal is the connection between territory and the end product: the soil, the livestock and the fields where the cattle are fed too, obviously cultivated without the use of chemicals.
A little known fact is that for each form of Parmigiano Reggiano, about 550 litres of milk are needed!
If you happen to be in Emilia-Romagna, even if just passing through, I really suggest you to take the time to stop by a local dairy offering this interesting visit around the Parmesan cheese fascinating universe. And of course, you'll have the chance to bring home a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano to enrich your dishes with its unique savour!
Click here to discover some original recipes with Parmigiano Reggiano!