How Many Kinds of Parmigiano Reggiano are out there?

There are really stringent laws governing what kind of cheese can be called Parmigiano Reggiano, so in fact the answer to the question should be: Only one kind – Parmesan cheeses produced in the regions which are covered by the Parmigiano Reggiano PDO (protected designation of origin). In reality, however, it is a little more complicated! Let me try to explain about the variations that can be found amongst cheeses that all proudly bear the PDO stamp which proclaims to the world that they are genuine Parmesan cheeses from the PDO region, which includes Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua and Bologna.

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It may surprise you to know that there are about 420 creameries within this designated region, and these “parmesan factories” receive their milk from over four thousand farms every day. Inevitably, there will be a large variation in the end product from all these dairies, due to the season, altitude, breed of cattle and expertise of the cheese-maker. Another factor that hugely influences the final cheese is the period of maturation; the minimum time required for a cheese to fulfil the stringent appellation requirements is 12months, but some cheese wheels spend up to 36 months in the maturation cellars, during which time there is a very noticeable change in the taste and character of the cheese.

Factors which influence the final product are:

Maturation: at 12 months this medium-fat semi-hard cheese will have a pale cream colour, taste slightly salty, slightly acid and slightly sweet, and have a wonderful nutty fragrance – Parmigiano is never a smelly cheese! There is a slight grainy texture, one of the distinctive characteristics of this King of Cheeses. At 18 months, the texture has changed as more crystals develop and the straw colour of the cheese is a shade darker; the flavour is becoming more savoury and the fragrance has become a little fruity. The flavours and aroma of the cheese continue to deepen and mature, and the colour gets progressively darker. By 30+ months the cheese is fully mature, a golden straw colour with many crystals and can have woody, spicy, and dried-fruit flavours on your palate. The rind will be really hard at this stage.

Altitude: At higher altitudes, the dairy herd has access to sweeter, greener grass (Parmigiano herds are never fed anything other than grass!) and purer water, resulting in the cheese from the mountains (Parmigiano di Montagna) having a subtly deeper flavour. Many cheese connoisseurs also believe that cheeses made in Spring and Autumn are also superior due to the improved feed at these times of the year. Since each wheel is date-stamped, it is easy for cheese buyers to select cheeses made at these time of the year.

The Herd: if you are faming cattle for the meat market you choose good beef producing breeds, and likewise milk producers for the famous Parmigiano cheese production rely on superior milk-producing cows. In this region the most favoured breed is the Alpine Brown, bred exclusively in the mountainous areas. Recently “red cows” as they are locally known are making a coming back. The Rossa di Parma is native cow of the area and it produces a superior milk. These animals produce the very best balance of quality and quantity of milk – a really superior product just perfect for the production of a really superior cheese.

So, to get back to the original question – there is only one type of cheese that may be called Parmigiano Reggiano, produced in the areas covered by the PDO, but within the parameters set there can be fairly wide variations in the appearance, aroma and taste (and price!) of your slice of Parmigiano.

Parmigiano reggiano factory tour

Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) guided visit to a cheese day.

Emilia Delizia offers detailed Parmigiano Reggiano cheese tours in Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia. Our tour will begin early in the morning in order to catch as much as possible. Below we tried to reproduce our tour in pictures to give a better idea to people about what they will see when at the Parmesan dairy.

Milk for parmesan cheese

1000 kg of milk for the parmigiano reggiano cheese production

At the arrival at the dairy we we will see the raw milk sitting in the vats. These large containers “cauldrons” contains 1000 kg of full fat and half milk mixed together. The compound is then acidified and the rennet is added. At this point the milk will turn into a yoghurt like substance.

 

cheese just made

2 wheels of parmesan cheese

These are the 2 twins, one is a boy and the other is a girl. Basically these are the curds of the cheese that have  been cut and left to rest. From 1000 kilos of milk we obtain 2 45 kilos wheels. Some of the weight is lost during the ageing, and therefore the final product weights approximately 37 kg.

Parmesan cheese just made

The cheese will spend a day in the Teflon mould

The unformed cheese goes into the Teflon mould for one day and one night. The cheese master carefully add a weight on top of the cheese. In order to squeeze our all the liquid the moulds are then turned every couple of hours. In the evening the cheese cloth is removed and the matrix carrying the naming Parmigiano Reggiano is inserted in the mould. Telon is a new material that has replaced the hand made wooden moulds that were originally crafted by hand.

 

In the video you can clearly see how the cheese is moved from the vat to the moulds. Our guests will be able to see the full production just meters away form the cheese being made.

metal moulds for the cheese

the parmesan cheese is the metal mould

The cheese goes into the metal mould for another day. These moulds have the shape of the wheel which will not required further manipulation such as the trimming of the edges.  The cheese always rest on wooden shelves which allow breathing and the correct ageing.

 

cheese guided tour

Guided tour to a Parmesan cheese dairy

The wheels then go to a brine bath and stay here for 3 weeks. This is an important step to make hard cheese in fact the high salinity of the water will allow residual moisture to exit thanks to natural osmosis. It is important to keep in mind that Parmesan cheese does not contain any preservative or anti fermentative, therefore it is essential to have the right amount of moisture in the wheels.

 

ageing Parmesan cheese

visit to the Parmigiano Reggiano maturation cellars

The last part of the visit will be spend in the ageing cellars. Here is the Parmigiano Reggiano is stocked on the traditional shelves for a minima of 12 months. During the visit we will learn how to recognise the real Parmesan cheese from imitation and we will discover the nutritional values of the product.

The culinary traditions of Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia is often overlooked by the tourists coming to Emilia Romagna. Reggio Emilia is a medium size town on the Via Emiia situated between Modena and Parma, and it makes the perfect base for the culinary traveller as there are many gourmet foods to be discovered.

Reggio Emilia and Parmesan cheese.

Reggio Emilia is in the cradle of Parmigiano Reggiano. The history of this amazing cheese starts here. Bibbiano has been named the town where the first production started around 900 years ago due to the discovery of the first written accounts of the cheese production. Therefore visiting Reggio Emilia makes perfect sense for those interested in seeing the production of Parmesan cheese.

Traditional balsamic vinegar of Reggio Emilia.

Modena made balsamic vinegar known worldwide but the production of aceto balsamic tradizionale is not restricted to the Modenese province. In the tradition balsamic vinegar was the dowry of young women who would marry and bring the vinegar barrels with them. Due to the close proximity of the two provinces the tradition was also brought in Reggio Emilia. Here it is possible to find more old fashioned producers who make only high quality traditional balsamic vinegar rather than concentrating on industrial vinegar as many do in Modena.

Fresh Egg Pasta: tortelli di zucca.

Of course Reggio Emilia, as all towns in the Emilia Region, produces its own version of fresh egg pasta. One of the most peculiar ones are the Tortelli di Zucca. Sometimes hat or ravioli shaped these parcels are filled with ricotta cheese, parmesan and pumpkin. Some recipes require a hint of crumbled amaretti biscuits in the filling, it is indeed an acquired taste but they can be delicious when topped with melted butter parmesan cheese and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

A Medieval Pie: Erbazzone.

Erbazzone belongs to the simple farmer’s style cuisine. The women in the kitchen had to come up with something filling and tasty so erbazzone is a pastry made with lard and flour with a filling of chard, spinach, or whatever was in the allotment at the time of preparation. The filling requires to be laced with parmesan cheese, and you could put as much as you could afford. The pastry is pierced with a fork to let vegetable inside to steam when baking in the oven.

Culaccia ham.

Culaccia is a culatello, (the best prosciutto cut) but it is cured with the rind on. This technique allows the meat to stay soft and tender. Culaccia can be found on the Reggio Emilia hills where the climate is drier and away from the foggy plains. In some cases Culaccia beats Parma ham and culatello in tasting competitions. So it is well worth to look for some slices of culaccia in the next trip to Italy.

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erbazzone made the traditional way

What to do with Parmesan cheese rinds

We have been recently searching on the internet about what to do with the end of Parmesan cheese rinds and we were surprises to discover that there is pretty much a lot of misconception about how to use the.

Well first of all do not throw them away, they can be used! Parmesan cheese is completely additive free and the rind do not contain any waxing or coating, it is made of cheese. The Parmigiano Reggiano rind is formed during the brine stage, when the wheels are soaked in water and sea salt for 21 days. In our region is custom to store the rinds in a fabric bag at the bottom of the fridge.

Once you have build up a decent cheese rinds you should start worrying about what to do wit them. You should scrape them a little with a knife and remove a thin layer of the external part. After all it was its protection and it have been touched and handled in different environments so better remove the impurities. Once you have cleansed the cheese rind you can cut it in small cubes and add it to Minestrone or virtually to any soup. Once you have cooked it do not discard the rinds but serve them with your soup, by cooking them they become soft and chewy, in fact one of our childhood favourites.

So in short you can eat the rind of the Parmesan cheese, and we are referring to Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy. If you have a stock of other cheese rinds we do not recommend to eat them as they might contain wax or other artificial coatings.