Parmigiano Reggiano, often referred to as the “King of Cheeses”, embodies a centuries-old Italian tradition of artisanal craftsmanship and culinary excellence. Known for its unique production process, superb flavor, and high culinary versatility, this cheese holds an esteemed position in the global gastronomy.
The Significance of Artisanal Craftsmanship in Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Production
The artisanal craftsmanship behind Parmigiano Reggiano isn’t about just creating a product; it’s reliving a historical heritage and preserving the authenticity that makes this cheese unique. Each wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano is painstakingly created by craftspeople who rely on time-honoured traditions passed down over generations.
Parmigiano Reggiano is strictly bounded by the Designation of Origin (DOP) laws, which means it can only be produced in specific regions within the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and parts of Bologna and Mantova. The milk, the cows’ diet, the fermentation, the aging process – every aspect is conducted under rigid regulations.
The Traditional Production Process
The manually-operated production process of Parmigiano Reggiano starts early morning with the collection of fresh, unpasteurized cow’s milk from the previous evening. This milk is left to sit overnight, allowing the cream to rise to the top, which is then skimmed off, resulting in partially skimmed milk. In the morning, this partially skimmed milk is combined with fresh full-cream milk and poured into traditional, large copper vats known as ‘caldere.’
The combined milk then gets heated and natural whey starter (a byproduct of the previous day’s cheese-making) and calf’s rennet are added to coagulate the milk. This curdling process forms curds, which are subsequently broken down into minute grains.
Next, the heat is increased, reaching around 55°C. This cooking process further reduces the moisture content of the curd, aiding in the development of the cheese’s rich, grainy texture typical of Parmigiano Reggiano.
The cheese mass is subsequently left to rest at the bottom of the vat, after which it is carefully lifted, divided into two, and wrapped in traditional cheese cloth. Each cheese mass is then given its unique identification number and placed in a mould for further shaping. The cheese rounds are moved to a brine bath where they absorb salt for flavor enhancement and as a natural preservative.
Aging is a critical step in the production process, where the cheese wheels are stored on wooden shelves in large, cool aging rooms for a minimum of 12 months, with some aged for over 36 months. Over time, the cheese gradually loses moisture, refining its texture and concentrating its flavors, ultimately forming the distinctive crumbly- yet-creamy Parmigiano Reggiano.
Benefits and Applications
Parmigiano Reggiano is highly appreciated for its nutritional value. Being rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals like calcium and phosphorous, it’s a healthy addition to various diets, especially for those who steer clear from foods with preservatives and artificial additives.
Culinarily, Parmigiano Reggiano is highly versatile. Its distinctive, umami-rich flavor enhances a range of dishes – from pastas and risottos to salads. It can be used in cooking, grating, or can be savored on its own.
Artisanal craftsmanship in Parmigiano Reggiano cheese production is not only a homage to its traditional roots but also a testament to the superior quality that can only be achieved through patience, passion, and painstaking attention to detail. It is a gastronomic heritage that needs to be appreciated and preserved for future generations, for its tradition encapsulates the essence of some of the best parts of human history – culture, tradition, and, of course, food.