Imagine waking up to the tantalizing aroma of fresh milk simmering in large cauldrons, witnessing master cheese makers transform this simple ingredient into the world-renowned Parmigiano Reggiano, and later, savouring a slice of this freshly made cheese. This isn’t a fantasy; it’s what awaits you during the “Caseifici Aperti” tour.
A Journey to the Heart of Italy’s Gastronomy
The “Caseifici Aperti”, which translates to “Open Dairies”, is an event unlike any other. Hosted in the heart of Italy’s Parmigiano Reggiano production area, it offers a rare peek into the time-honored tradition of cheese-making. Scheduled this year for October 7th and 8th, this is a weekend where the doors of numerous dairies swing open to the public, inviting one and all to delve into the world of Parmesan.
More than Just Cheese
While the cheese itself is undoubtedly the star of the show, the event promises an immersive experience. Here’s what to expect:
- Live Demonstrations: Witness firsthand the artistry and skill involved in turning milk into Parmigiano Reggiano. The dedication of the ‘casari’, the cheese makers, is palpable as they work meticulously, following processes that have remained unchanged for centuries.
- Interactive Sessions: Engage with the casari, ask questions, and understand the passion that drives them. Their tales weave a rich tapestry of tradition, culture, and an unwavering commitment to quality.
- Gastronomic Delights: The tour is not just about watching and learning; it’s about tasting too! Relish freshly made Parmigiano Reggiano, and discover the nuances of its flavor profile.
- Explore the Region: Beyond the dairies, the event is a celebration of the region. Tourists can explore local attractions, bask in the region’s natural beauty, and partake in various entertainment activities, including games, performances, and more at Iren Green Park in Reggio Emilia.
Make It A Weekend Affair
To make the most of your “Caseifici Aperti” experience, plan ahead:
- Choose Your Dairy: With numerous dairies participating, you’re spoilt for choice. Whether it’s the CASEIFICIO UGOLOTTI in Parma or the SOCIETÀ AGRICOLA BERTINELLI GIANNI E NICOLA in Noceto, each dairy has its own unique story to tell.
- Book in Advance: These tours are popular, and spots can fill up quickly. Once you’ve zeroed in on a dairy (or multiple dairies), reach out to them to secure your place.
- Stay Local: The Parmigiano Reggiano production area is brimming with cozy accommodations. Staying local allows you to soak in the region’s charm and ensures you’re fresh and ready for your dairy tour.
The Parmigiano Reggiano Process: What to Expect at the Dairy
Parmesan, or as it’s authentically known, Parmigiano Reggiano, is the result of art, time, and tradition. Here’s a step-by-step overview of the fascinating process and what you might witness during your visit to the dairy:
- Milk Collection: The journey begins with the collection of milk. Parmigiano Reggiano is made from a mix of evening and morning milk. The evening milk is left to rest overnight, allowing the cream to rise to the top. This cream is removed the next morning, and the partially skimmed milk is then combined with the fresh morning milk.
- Copper Cauldrons: The combined milk is poured into large, bell-shaped copper cauldrons. Here, it’s gently warmed, and natural whey starter and calf rennet are added to initiate the curdling process.
- Curds and Whey: As you watch, the milk will begin to coagulate and form curds. These curds are then broken down into tiny granules using a traditional tool called a ‘spino’. The mixture is heated once more until the curds settle at the bottom, separating from the whey.
- Forming the Cheese: The settled curds are lifted with a muslin cloth and divided into two parts. Each part is wrapped in the cloth and placed in a circular mold called ‘fascera’. The weight of the curds compresses them, giving the cheese its characteristic wheel shape.
- Salting and Aging: The freshly molded cheese wheels are then immersed in brine for salting. Once salted, the wheels are transferred to aging rooms, known as ‘cascine’. Here, they rest on wooden shelves and are regularly turned and cleaned. This is where the magic truly happens! Depending on the desired age of the cheese, it can be aged from 12 months to over 36 months.
- Quality Inspection: Not every wheel makes the cut! Inspectors from the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium use a small hammer to tap the cheese and listen for defects. Only those that pass the rigorous inspection are fire-branded with the iconic Parmigiano Reggiano mark.
During your “Caseifici Aperti” tour, not only will you witness these stages, but you’ll also appreciate the skill and dedication of the ‘casari’. The ambiance of the dairy, the rhythmic sounds of cheese-making, and the sight of countless cheese wheels aging to perfection is an experience that stays with you long after the tour concludes. Whether you’re a cheese enthusiast or just a curious traveler, seeing the birth of Parmigiano Reggiano is a spectacle that is both educational and mesmerizing.