Parmigiano Reggiano, a ka Parmesan in English speaking countries, was invented in the 12th century. The technique used today remains the same since its invention.
If you are looking for a taste experience, stay away from imitations that abound.
First, there is the grated version widely available in North American grocery stores. It tastes like sawdust and has no gustatory value. Then there are imitations from Argentina, New Zealand, the U S A, that has no semblance to the authentic product.
In Europe, no country tries to produce “fake” Parmesan. It is against the law.
This hard cheese is named after the region surrounding the towns of Parma and Ruggio and must adhere to strict regulation starting from cow breeds, to designated pastures, and feeding regimens. Cattle must be fed only local grass and hay in winter. Cows are milked twice a day. The evening milk is left in open tanks overnight for the cream to rise to the top. The cream is removed in the morning. The milk is then blended with that of the morning delivery. The mixture is pumped into huge cauldrons (capacity 1,100 litres) and will yield two loaves of 45 kgs. of Parmesan.
The milk is heated to 33 C and rennet (from the fourth stomach of nursing calves) is added and stirred to curdle the milk. The curd is now broken up by specially designed cheese harps and again heated, this time to 55 C, while stirring constantly. When the desired consistently is reached, the heat is turned off to allow settling. An hour or so later, the coagulated mass is gathered in specially designed muslin cloth “catchers’”.
After a few days, the newly “formed” cheese loaf, is placed in brining tanks for 20 – 25 days during which time, the wheel absorbs one kg. of salt.
A little of the whey is kept for use the following day. The rest is sold to pig farmers who raise animals’ for the other delicacy of the regions – prosciutto di Parma.
Then the cheese is stored in a temperature and humidity controlled warehouse to age.
Parmigiano must be aged for a minimum of one year, but most producers market theirs after tow years of aging. Each wheel is turned over every fortnight during the first year, monthly thereafter.
After the first year, an official cheese taster arrives to “check” each wheel for branding, if it passes the “sniff test” the wheel is branded.
Approximately four per cent of the wheels fail to strict criteria and are sold as common hard cheese.
During aging, the cheese darkens and the rind hardens. The flavour intensifies and amino acids start crystallizing.
Proteins break down and become easier to digest. While it takes four hours to digest protein in a steak, it only takes 45 minutes for Parmesan.
Each wheel of Parmesan tastes slightly different due atmospheric differences during aging; and overall both taste and colour change pending the season.
Parmesan is a completely natural cheese and is the only one allowed into space for astronauts to enjoy.
Parmesan is readily available in major metropolitan cities all over the world, and usually sold in wedges.
Vacuum packed and tightly wrapped into foil, it can be stored in the crisper of your refrigerator for up to five weeks and even longer.
Parmiggiano-Reggiano must not be confused with Grana Padano from Lombardy and which is produced using the same technique but from milk of cows that graze on pastured of Lombardy. Grana Padano is aged for only a few months, texturally tastes coarser, saltier and less intense than Parmigiano -Reggiano.
Parmesan should be grated just before use on vegetables and/or salads. Pre-grating diminishes flavour.
You can enjoy Parmesan (at room temperature) with Amarone della Valpolicella , or Recioto della Valpolicella, or with ripe pears, walnuts and other appropriate fruits.
Authentic Parmesan is branded indelibly. Always look for it before purchasing.
The taste of authentic Parmesan is incomparable to any other cheese.
It was so valuable that a few centuries ago banks accepted the value of aging and aged Parmesan wheels as collateral.