I grew up in Wisconsin and have lived there my entire life, so basically you could call me a cheese expert. My palate has changed over the years turning from classic American cheese to more refined flavors like Pecorino, feta and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Don’t get me wrong, American cheese is still the only cheese I’ll eat on a good grilled cheese sandwich. And I still won’t touch anything with blue marbling involved. BUT on top of my cheese list now is Parmigiano-Reggiano and if you’re not familiar with this amazing cheese and how it is different than classic Parmesan, I’m here today to educate you!
While in Italy last month I had the opportunity to take a little trip to the Emilia-Romagna region to learn more about some of the amazing food production that happens in Parma and Modena. Today I want to share my experience visiting one of the producers of the famed Parmigiano Reggiano, a cheese produced exclusively in this region.
My experience started bright and early in the morning as it does every day for the workers at Latteria Cooperative Di Marino. Seriously, every single day the cheesemaker and his family arrive at the dairy to produce Parmigiano Reggiano from the fresh milk that arrives every. single. morning. (Cows apparently don’t take vacations.) The team moves from cauldron to cauldron following the steps that will turn the milk into award winning wheels of cheese. The process in total needs to take less than 2 hours from the arrival of the milk to produce the best tasting wheels of cheese that will age for a minimum of 12 months.
Following our education session on how the cheese wheels are made, we paid a visit to what I would consider the Mecca of Parmigiano Reggiano: the aging room. Thousands of wheels of cheese are stacked from floor to ceiling awaiting their seal of approval from the Consortium. The wheels are brushed and turned daily to ensure that the proper maturation process takes place, resulting in the highest quality of cheese.
Here are some fun facts about Parmigiano Reggiano:
- Over 3,650,563 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano are produced each year
- 520 liters of milk are used to produce a single 40.5kg wheel of cheese
- There are only 335 dairies that produce authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Now that I’ve talked up this amazing, artisanal cheese, let’s talk about Parmesan! Unlike Parmigiano Reggiano, Parmesan is not a regulated cheese and can be ready to consume in as little as 10 months. The other big difference is simply that Parmesan is not produced under DOC (Denominazione di Origine controllata) laws which are meant to preserve the integrity of traditional Italian food products by ensuring the flavor and quality. There are certainly some really amazing cheesemakers that produce Parmesan of similar quality and flavor, but if it doesn’t come from a cow in Emilia-Romagna, it can never officially be labeled as Parmigiano Reggiano.
I want to extend a special ‘thank you’ to my friends at Parmigiano Reggiano and Latteria Cooperative Di Marino for allowing me to experience the creation of their amazing cheese. Be sure to visit the Parmigiano Reggiano website if you want to learn more about the cheesemaking process and get some tasty recipes.