Of all Italian cheeses, Parmesan is perennially familiar to anyone who is at all acquainted with Italian food. It’s so ubiquitous as a pasta dish topping that so many brands of what most people call “Parmesan” exist.
However, one thing you might not realise is that if you really wanted to follow the basic rules or guidelines surrounding traditional food from Italy, you’d quit buying the pre-grated or powdered cheeses that pass for “Parmesan,” and buy it fresh and grate it onto your food before serving.
Where Does Parmesan Come From?
Parmesan cheese hails from both the Parma and Reggiano Emilia regions of northern Italy, though this most recognisable of cheese types has the more formal name of “Parmigiano Reggiano,” the two words being descriptive Italian for the regions in which the cheese is made.
If you’re mostly familiar with the cheap powdery “Parmesan” cheese, and have never had the real thing, you’re missing out. It’s a hard cheese that is cooked, not pressed, and is granular in texture, and the powdered imitations have nothing on the rich flavours of freshly grated Parmigiano.
The Production Process
The production method for Parmigiano has been handed down for centuries, right down to the choice of dairy cattle, and how they’re bred and fed, to obtain the best possible milk. The milk is taken from the rural farms and put into vats of copper for the curdling process. Then they add whey to speed up the fermentation process, after which the mixture is further heated and stirred with a rotella.
The next step is using rennet to separate the solids (curds), from the liquid (whey), which is used for the next batch of cheese. Once the curds are split to the desired consistency, it is put into a cloth and placed in a round wooden form, and allowed to sit for a few days. Then it’s placed into brine for the purpose of salt absorption, after which it’s exposed to sunlight before being put back on shelves to ripen.
The cheese is taken, after many weeks, to warehouses for further maturation, and once it’s properly looked over, it is marked with its formal name and quality seal for selling.
Once you have a sample of true Parmigiano Reggiano freshly grated onto your next Italian dish, you’ll realise it is worth it to have the real thing on your taste buds as much as possible.