A trip to the Emilia-Romagna region on a private Italy journey would not be complete without visiting one of the local cheese factories that produce the famous Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
The Parmesan is one of the oldest Italian cheeses and the producers still use the same ingredients and techniques as their ancestors 800 years ago. Historians think that the first Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese was created in what today is the province of Reggio Emilia in the Middle Ages, although, some think that its origins can be trace back to even earlier times. Many documents exist which show that back then the famous cheese was made more or less the same way it is produced today.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from raw cow’s milk. The whole milk is mixed with a portion of naturally skimmed milk, natural rennet. Sixteen liters of milk are required to make one kilo of delicious Parmesan. On your private Italy Journey while visiting a cheese factories you will be able to see the manual process of shaping cheese wheels that are then left in salt brine for 20 days. Each wheel weighs around 30-38 kilos and after the brine bath, they are transferred to the aging rooms. Row after row are filled with fragrant Parmesan wheels, at some factories you will see 4000 wheels of cheese per aisle! Every seven days each wheel is cleaned and turned and it is done for at least 12 months, which is the minimum aging period for Parmigiano-Reggiano. The real Parmesan connoisseurs prefer the cheese aged for 24 months as it develops a stronger, more complex flavor and unique gritty texture.
The Parmesan production is strictly regulated by the Parmesan Cheese Consortium to guarantee the quality and prevent imitations. After 12 months, every single wheel of cheese is inspected and tapped by a master grader. The ones that pass the quality control get the Consortium’s logo on the rind and make their way to the Italian table and lovers of Italian food across the world.
Photos via Flickr by: Udo Schröter, Paul Kelly.