The Finest Parmesan money can buy (Parmigiano if you prefer)
The northern plains of Italy bordering the River Po are fertile and green all year round. They provide lush, grass-filled pastures ideal for dairy farming. Thousands of Freisian cows live here and are milked daily. The milk is collected and delivered to the cheese makers, located just minutes from the farms. The cheese makers work seven days a week, and every single day of the year. It is this dedication and consistency that produces ‘Parmigiano’ – which the Italians will tell you is the most famous cheese in the world.
On the straight road that runs from Reggio Emilia to Modena there are numerous small dairies producing authentic Parmesan Cheese. The Italians call it Parmigiano Reggiano. According to Italian law Parmigiano can only be made in the areas of Parma, Reggio, Modena and Mantova. The cheese has been awarded DOP status which means it is ‘Denominazione d’Origine Protetta’ in other words it is guaranteed to come from one of these four designated areas and the production and quality control of the cheese is carefully monitored. Every morning the milk arrives at the dairy around 7.00am. Cheese production starts around 8.00am. It is a very labour intensive process. I’m with a small group and we are lucky enough to be having a tour of the dairy – we have strict instructions that we must be there at 7.45 at the latest. We must not touch anything, vats, pans, ladles – nothing!
The ‘Parmigiano Reggiano Consorzio’ is the public body that supervises and controls the making of Parmigiano and its distribution not just in Italy but globally. Anna the representative of the Consorzio is waiting for us when we arrive. We are shown the complete process of cheese-making from the arrival of the milk, separation of the curds and whey, creation of the ‘wheels’ of cheese, to the soaking of the cheese in ‘salt baths’. The cheese rests in the salt bath for about ten days. Then it is moved into a huge, modern temperature-controlled room for storing, drying and ageing of the cheese.
To go from milk to cheese takes a good morning. However it is the flavouring, ageing and drying process that takes a minimum of 24 months. The cheese contains no additives, preservatives or artifical flavourings. The only ingredients are milk and salt. In Italy they say, ’’…the shorter the list of ingredients the more authentic the food……..”
The ‘Consorzio’ takes its duties very seriously. They employ an in-house legal team and actively pursue any producers who do not meet their very stringent requirements. If any ‘foreigner’ claims to be making Parmigiano Reggiano they will be taken to court immediately. In recent years producers in Asia have been claiming to produce Parmigiano Reggiano. This has created an almost government level diplomatic incident between Italy and certain Asian countries. The ‘Consorzio’ travels the world promoting its Parmigiano and ensuring that ‘copies’ masquerading as the real think do not reach the market place.
Authentic Parmigiano must have aged for at least 24 months before it is sold. Try a little piece, it is delicious. The texture is quite crumbly, the cheese is dry and flaky. An ideal accompaniment to pasta, meat sauces, even to liven up a slice of toast. If you are planning a trip to this part of Italy I’d strongly recommend a trip to a Parmesan cheese-maker. The quality of the cheese is exceptional. The dedication and hard work of the cheese-makers is even more impressive. Just imagine, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Contact me and I’ll gladly put you in touch with the right people.
- Janet Simmonds is a tour guide and owner of Grand Tourist a travel company specialising in unique tailor-made travel in France, Italy, The Alps and British Isles.
- This is Janet’s travel blog ‘Educated Traveller’
- You might also enjoy The Five Sisters of Villa Angarano about a family that run a vineyard close to Bassano, in the Veneto from their Palladian stately home.
- For more on Emilia Romagna why not read my article on the city of Ferrara, also in Emilia Romagna – Ferrara – a perfect small city
- The Parmigiano production unit that I visited is the Caseificio San Simone.
- Caseificio San Simone has an excellent shop and interesting early morning visit (by appointment) to see the Parmesan cheese being made. San Simone Caseificio
- Buon Appetito!!!