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In Search Of Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma

November 26, 2018

Food & Drink | by Harry Mills


Parma, city, in the Emilia – Romagna region is synonymous with famous delicacies like Parma ham, Parmesan cheese and Lambrusco – but it also satisfies appetites for art, music and history too. 

In 2016, this riverside city was named a Unesco Creative City for Gastronomy, the first city in Italy to achieve this honour, and one it really deserves. The beautiful cobbled streets and stucco houses bath in sepia tones, as rich and golden as their tortelli pasta.

Founded by the Romans along the Via Aemilia in 183 BC, Parma was important as a road junction between Milan and Bologna and as a result, trade flourished and it quickly obtained Roman citizenship. The city’s imposing Romanesque cathedral is a must see, containing magnificent works by Antelami and Correggio – if you have a ceiling you need painting, Correggio is your guy. Most notably, keep your eyes peeled for a masterwork of perspective, “Assumption of the Virgin”.

When visiting Parma, you can’t move for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, also known as the king of cheeses – still produced today as it was nine centuries ago. It’s the only cheese that has such an extensive maturation which develops its delicious flavour and unique characteristics.

Parmigiano Reggiano is a P.D.O. product, this designation covers products that are “produced, processed and prepared” in a specific area, using a particular, usually traditional, method.  This means that the product is defined and protected by  European Union law in order to defend its reputation to a specific area and or region. Similarly to this, as in Parma, Jersey Royal potatoes,  Cornish Clotted Cream and  Gloucestershire Old Spot plus many other ingredients also share this certification too.

During your visit to Parma, you must take a visit to Caseificio CPL. This dairy is nothing but authentic in it’s approach to making the finest Parmigiano Reggiano – as all cheese is largely made by hand as it would of been in the 13th century.

Making Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is a lengthy process, one which requires expert craftsmanship – and can only be performed by experienced cheese makers.Unpasteurised milk is delivered to the factory twice a day, and come from cows with a very controlled an regulated diet. They are fed primarily on alfalfa, and this a specification which is imperative to the process and can not be substituted.

Milk from the night before and milk fresh from the morning are mixed half/half, one half full fat milk and the other from milk which has had the cream removed. Rennet and whey are also added into the mix.The mix coagulate in humongous vats, at a constant 39 degrees. Once this process is complete, the cheese-makers fish for curds in the motion replicating a figure of eight. As the temperature is increased to 52 degrees, curds sink to the bottom of the large copper cauldrons.

Equipped with enormous whisk like utensils, otherwise know as Spinos the cheese-maker slices through the curds with grace, demonstrating their experience in this tiresome process – this process is eventually replicated by a machine which will continue to stir the curds.

Once rested, the cheese will settle upon itself forming one lump of cheese. Using a large wooden paddle, the cheese-maker must move 90kg of cheese to the surface and place it in a large muslin cloth. Moments like this, it’s clear to see how much of a skill is required for making this famous cheese.

A large ball of cheese is eventually the final product once all the remaining whey is drained away however, the whey is not wasted it is instead used to make ricotta or shared with local pig farmers for feeding their stock. The balls of cheese are then divided in two equally as large pieces of cheese before being transferred to muslin lined containers.

Each individual cheese is given a unique, progressive number which acts as an identity card – which is important to tracing where the cheese has come from. The dotted inscriptions are unmistakable and easily identifiable on the cheese wheel. The wheel is then soaked in a salt-saturated solution for a few days.

Each wheel is stored in a silent maturation room where the cheese dries and a natural rind is formed. The minimum maturation is twelve months but can last up to sixty-four months.

Before the cheese can be called Parmigiano Reggiano it must first face strict scrutiny and rigorous tests, this is completed by the experts of the consortium who will inspect each cheese one by one.

Once the cheese wheels are certified they are then fire-branded which meets the PDO requirements.

Different seals identify a different grade of cheese for consumers. A red seal shows that a cheese has matured for 18-months and has a strong milk flavour and is ideal as a aperitif. A silver cheese has been matured for over 22 months, in taste this cheese is a lot more refined with a distinct nutty taste. Lastly, a gold identifies a cheese which has matured for over 30 months and has the most distinct flavour, over its long maturation period the cheese has become more complex.

Parmigiano Reggiano is an unmistakable and unique product which is celebrated across the world. “Parma, che bella!”

Getting there

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies to Parma from Stansted from £39.98 return. A shuttle bus to Parma’s train station costs €2 (£1.75); taxis cost around €15 (£13). For further information visit turismo.comune.parma.it.

See below for a recipe that uses Parmigiano Reggiano which won’t disappoint.

Parmigiano Reggiano Pumpkin and Porcini Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients

225g Parmigiano Reggiano, plus extra, to serve

40g Dried porcini mushrooms

1 vegetable stock cube

4 tbsp Olive oil

300g Arborio or carnaroli rice

1 Bunch spring onions,

?nely chopped 300g Pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into small chunks 150ml Italian dry white wine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 Method

Finely grate the Parmigiano Reggiano and set to one side. Put the dried mushrooms into a heatproof bowl. Mix the stock powder or cube with 850ml boiling water, then pour over the mushrooms and leave them to soak for about 30 minutes. When ready to cook, heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan or large saucepan.

Add the rice and sauté it gently over a medium heat for about 1 or 2 minutes, until it looks translucent, though not browned. Add the spring onions and pumpkin or butternut squash and cook gently, stirring often, for another two or three minutes. Pour in the wine and let it bubble up for a few moments, and then add the soaked mushrooms and about two ladles of stock. Cook gently for about 20-25 minutes, adding more stock as needed, until the rice is tender and creamy.

Stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano and season to taste. Add shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano, or freshly grate some more into each portion, then serve.

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