And please – we are not talking about just any old cheese – this is the world-famous, award-winning and closely safe-guarded KING of all cheeses – Parmigiano Reggiano. This unmistakable masterpiece is produced exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and in some parts of Mantova and Bologna, in the hills and mountains between the Apennines and river Po, where the animals are fed strictly on forage produced in these areas. These conditions are the basic requirements needed in order to obtain this remarkable cheese….but how is it actually made?
Each day, the production of the evening’s milking is left to rest in huge tanks until the next morning, while the fat content (which will later be used to make butter) rises to the surface. At this point, the skimmed milk and the next morning’s freshly milked production are united, and poured into enormous upside down bell-shaped, copper vats, with the addition of calf rennet and natural whey, both rich in milk enzymes and obtained from yesterday’s process. The milk turns into curd after approximately ten minutes, and is chopped into tiny fragments with an antique tool called “spino”. In our local factory, there are 21 of these vats, and each one makes 2 forms of cheese a day.
After being heated at 55°c for around fifty minutes, the curd granules sink to the bottom of the vats forming one enormous mass, which is then removed with skilled movements by the competent hands of the cheesemaker. It is cut into two halves, each of which are wrapped in a special cloth and placed in particular moulds, giving them their typical shape.
Every wheel of cheese is then marked by means of a casein label, with a unique and progressive number which will accompany the cheese in its journeys as an identity card. After a few hours, a special marking band engraves the month and year of production, its cheese dairy registration, and last but not least, the unmistakable dotted inscriptions around the complete circumferance of the wheels which, after a few days, are soaked in a water and salt-saturated solution. This assorbtion process brings the whole procedure to an end in less than one month, but then the aging cycle begins – no less fascinating.
In the silence of the storehouses, rows and rows of wheels are put to rest, each one of which required 550 lt of milk and the constant commitment of breeders and cheesemakers in order to exist. 14000 forms of Parmigiano Reggiano are stored in our local factory every year. During their maturing period, whilst sitting on wooden boards, the external part of the cheeses begins to dry out, forming a natural, untreated and perfectly edible crust. The story of Parmigiano Reggiano is a long, slow one, which follows the rhythm of the seasons. In fact the minimum maturing time is twelve months, and only at this point will each wheel prove (or not) to live up to the name inscribed upon it; consortium experts carefully examine each and every wheel, and when they are satisfied that the quality is up to scratch, only then do they proceed to brand the cheeses with the D.O.P. mark (Controlled designation of origin). All those which do not meet requirements have all their markings removed. This is a vital passage in the whole procedure, probably the most important for the master cheesemakers, because it is the moment of selection which gives an absolute guarantee of quality.
This fascinating story can be witnessed at the local cheese factory, where visitors are welcome, by appointment, to walk through the spotless premises and listen to an explanation of all the procedures whilst they are seeing them performed. Guests at Villa Tre Angeli can request to experience this remarkable journey through one of Italy’s finest traditions – so be sure to put it on the list for your next trip to Europe!