Normally its cows that are branded, but this is Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy often referred to as parmesan cheese. Parmesan does start with cows but it’s only their milk we want. This dairy in Mantova, Italy uses half a ton of milk for each block of cheese. It’s made in these huge copper vats. Each one holds 990 liters enough to make two giant Parmesan wheels.
Those cows have a lot of grass to eat to keep up with production. Parmesan is a hard cheese so the milk needs to be solidified. The ideal temperature for this is 33 degrees. To get the milk to solidify, the cheese maker will use rennets. This enzyme comes from calves stomachs, and it’s poured in and left for a moment to work its magic.
Because of strict European laws constraining trademarks. Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be made in certain Italian regions. This means each producer must make as much as they can because global demand is huge. As the rennet takes effect, the head cheese maker will notice subtle changes in the milk’s consistency.
The workers keep a very close eye out so they know when to start the next step. When the time is right, they get to work. Using custom made cutters, they slice through the yogurt-like substance, breaking it into lumps. This helps separate the cheese curds from the whey. After three minutes of this, the temperature is raised and the two parts separate.
The solid curds fall to the bottom leaving the liquid whey at the surface. This custom made knife casts over 4,000 pounds and it’s designed to cut the big lump of cheese at the bottom of the tank in half. In the Parmesan business, high tech goes hand in hand with old school. The cheese master now uses his big wooden paddle to lift the two halves so his colleagues can wrap them in cloth.
If they left the cheese in the bottom of the tank, someone would have to climb inside to get them out. This way is far easier. The workers can now suck out all the old whey, making the tanks ready for the next load of milk. Once the cheese is removed, it’s wrapped up and a weight is put on top. This squeezes out excess fluid.
As a hard cheese, Parmesan needs as little fluid as possible. It’ll remain like this for eight hours in a Teflon-mold. As the cheese spreads out, this imprints the dairy’s name into the sides. After about 24 hours, the Teflon form is substituted for a metal one. Here it will sit down and take on the characteristic wheel shape with a flat top and bottom and curved sides.
After three days in their molds, these cheeses could really do with a bath, a salt bath. This process actually improves that cheesy smell. The cheese is left in this salty brine for a month before it’s taken out to be dried. This helps improve the cheese’s final flavor. Once it’s time to get out of that shag bathwater they make their way to the ripening room.
The contents of this room are estimated have a total value of 17 million pounds and our freshly baked Parmesan wheels are about to join them. The wheels will spend up to two years in here maturing slowly. But to avoid growing mold they have to be turned at least once every two weeks. Turning this many cheeses would be very dull and very hard so a robot is used instead.
Although after doing this job for such a long time it looks like the robots could also do with some turning. As it matures the staff keep a close eye on the cheeses. Using his official hammer the head cheesemaker will tap on a random sample. His expert ear knows the sound of a good Parmesan from a bad one.
He’ll use a little corkscrew to test a sample, and ensure the cheese is maturing nicely. When he satisfied it up to scratch, he’ll fire up his trusty brand and mark the cheese. From it’s humble beginnings via some rather dark and briny bathwater, the world’s favorite pasta topping is born.
The Text has been extracted from this video, the cheese represented is actually Grana Padano and not Parmigiano Reggiano.
A video in high quality shot during our gourmet tours in June 2012, with cool music and special effect enjoy.
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