23 November 2015

2015 ITALY Parma 20 - Making Parmigiano-Reggiano (P-R) Cheese

08:00 departure. Travel time one hour to our first stop at Polesine Parmense, a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese factory. This is the source. This is the real thing. Can't get much more pure P-R than this.

How to make it ... the quick version, but this process may vary with the weather, temp, humidity, etc. (Hope my notes are right, but close enough!) 

Cows MUST live in the P-R region and only be fed local grass or hay.

Milk is delivered in the evening and left to rest til morning. The fat rises to the top, is skimmed off, and used to make butter. 
The rest is poured into deep bell-shaped copper cauldrons. Rennet and fermented whey are added. Milk coagulates in about 10 minutes and then a paddle called a "spino" breaks it up into small granules. Then the cauldron is heated with steam and cheesy granules sink to the bottom and form a single mass. After this settles, cheese makers divide and gather mass into several cloths. 

The contents of each cloth is put into a plastic ring mold for one day. This mold has the official dotted P-R markings, dates of its progress, the cheese makers name, and other info regarding that wheel of cheese to make a unique "identity card." After the shape solidifies, it moves to a steel ring mold for two days to relax.

Later that ring is removed and the wheel is immersed in a brine solution (made of Mediterranean sea salt and water) for 22 days. That is where the salty flavor of P-R comes from.

That ends the production cycle and then the maturation / aging cycle begins. Wheels are stored in the refrigerated cheese "warehouse." They rest on wooden shelves for a minimum of 18 months. Starting at the top of the row and moving down, a "robot" device turns and brushes each wheel every day to keep it clean.

This shows just one aisle from floor to high ceiling, there was dozens of aisles and many rooms filled like this. The shelves can be as much as 24 wheels high by 90 in length, or 2,160 total wheels per aisle. And it smells sooooo good!
Outside inspectors examine each wheel at various times in the process to assure high quality. After each inspection a new certification stamp is inked onto the wheel. If a wheel does not meet standards, the previous certification marks are removed. The cheese can still be sold, but not as official P-R cheese. A silver certificate means the cheese aged for over 22 months. Gold is used for over 30 months. 

Fun facts: Each wheel starts with 158 gallons of milk. This facility makes about 60 wheels per day. Each wheel is about 7-9 inches high, 16-18 inches in diameter, and weights 100 pounds. 
Ricotta cheese is also made here, but it is heated a second time. So ricotta means re-cooked.

An aside: We bought some Italian butter once back home and it had a very Parma cheesy taste to it. It was double the price of Land O'Lakes butter, but a fun and delicious treat. It must have been made from the milk fat skimmed off at the beginning of this process. I think the brand was "Burro di Parma."

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