How Parmesan Cheese Comes To Life

June 29, 2011

Today I'm going to take you on an extraordinary journey: the "creation" of Parmesan cheese. A form of art that dates back centuries.
Nutritionists around the world agree that Parmesan cheese (real Parmesan-Reggiano cheese) can play an important role in a healthy diet, due to its nutritional value (high protein content, easy digestibility and high concentrations of calcium and vitamins). Parmesan can rightfully be labeled as a power food, very good for athletes, whether pros or amateurs. It is also beneficial to seniors because of its high content of calcium, phosphorus and one of the lowest cholesterol levels among cheeses.

 

History

The roots of this cheese go back to 1200 A.D., in the North-East region of Italy; in an enclosed land that stretches between the Po River and the Apennine Mountain. During the Middle Ages, the Benedictine monasteries in this region, began the production of long-aged cheese of notable size: Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Why so special?

Why is Parmesan so good? And, moreover, why it is produced only in this particular region? 
Well, it's pretty intuitive; as with almost any high-quality food; the air, the water and the soil of this particular "spot" are unique and decisive in making Parmesan-Reggiano cheese. On top of that, the level of expertise build over the centuries by the local population involved in the production of Parmesan cheese is rare and hard to replicate.


In this enclosed place cow are 100% grass-fed. This guarantees milk of the highest quality.
In fact, milk's production (used in the manufacturing of Parmigiano-Reggiano) is governed by strict regulations that provide, among other things, for the use of only locally grown grass. More importantly, the cows are never fed with corn silage or fermented food of any kind.


 

Every day 270,000 cows produce the milk that goes into making Parmesan. They are milked twice a day, and their milk is taken to the cheese factory quickly. There's no use of additives or pasteurization, that's why it has to be delivered asap.



To give you an it takes about 158.5 gallons (600 liters) of milk to make just one wheel of Parmesan cheese.
Here's a quick overview of the manufacturing process...


1) The Milk

Milk, from the evening milking, is partly skimmed through natural separation of the cream made during the night by surfacing at a temperature of 64°F (18°C).
It is then is poured into the copper cauldrons where it is mixed with whole milk from the morning milking.





2) Natural Whey Starter

After warming the milk at 95°F (35°C), natural whey starter is added. A culture of natural lactic ferments obtained from the cheese-making process of the day before.

3) Natural Rennet

Rennet, a natural enzyme from the stomach of suckling calves, that is added. Renner causes the milk to curdle as it causes a the change to pH, which goes from pH 6,7 to pH 4,4.




4) Breaking Up the Curds

The curdled milk is broken down into small granules with a huge balloon whisk called “spino”.

5) Cooking

At the temperature of 156 °F (56 °C) the master cheesemaker expel water from the granules. Once the heat is turned off, the granules sink to the bottom of the cauldron, forming a compact mass.




6) Lifting

The cheese mass is lifted from the bottom of the cauldron and divided into two parts.




7) Forming

Each part is placed in a special mold called “fascera” where it rests for 2 to 3 days.






8) Application of the Marks of Origin

The mark of origin is then applied to each wheel of cheese. It consists of two things.
The first is a casein disc applied to the top surface containing a unique alphanumeric code used to identify each cheese wheel individually (CFPR). 

The second is the mark “Parmigiano-Reggiano” in a repeating pin dot pattern, which also includes the identifying number of the cheese house, and the month and year of production.










8) Salting

The cheese is immersed at 46-64 °F (8-18°C) in brine (a solution of water and natural salt) for about 20 days to allow the absorption of the salt needed to flavor the cheese and allow its long aging.




9) Aging

At the end of the salting process, the cheese wheel is ready to be aged. The aging process lasts for 24 months (sometimes more) during which time the cheese develops its fragrance and texture.




10) Inspection

At the end of the minimum period of aging (12 months) each wheel is inspected. An expert evaluates the appearance, structure, and characteristics of the cheese.



The seal

Cheese wheels carry different seals according to their aging time: more than 18 months have Red Seal, more than 22 Silver Seal and more than 30 months Gold Seal.




Highest quality

At the end of the aging process the quality of each wheel is examined. If a wheel meets certain standards it can have an additional certification: the mark EXTRA or EXPORT is branded on the side of the wheel to provide an additional guarantee of the superior quality of that particular wheel of Parmesan.
Parmesan is a unique cheese which is often counter-faked.
According to recent figures at 2 out of 3 wheels sold on the market are not real Parmigiano Reggiano. So be careful with what you're buying!


Margherita Bisoglio

10 comments :

  1. Great post! Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving the comment on Kombucha. I didn't know the nutritional info on Parmigiano, good to know!

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  2. This was so interesting! I love parmesan cheese (well, all cheese...) and it's great to learn the nutritional info behind it :)

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  3. I had no idea Parmesan Cheese could actually be considered healthy (no more skipping it on my spaghetti!) or that it takes 16 gallons of milk to make one cheese wheel. Very interesting, thanks for sharing!

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  4. This was very interesting! Thanks for the comment on my blog. It was cool to be able to see behind the scenes for the production of this cheese.

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  5. This is a great article, thank you. I once worked in Italy and still miss the fantastic food. Pasta for me is out these days (I'm a type 2 diabetic)but Italian cheeses, Palma ham and wines are still on the menu.

    Thanks for your comment on our blog.

    Eddie

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  6. An amazingly comprehensive and enjoyable read. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  7. This is a really great blog! Thank you for visiting me and bringing me here. I try to live my life healthy and be fit and your blog here will be a great read for me on a regular basis. :)

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  8. Great article! Food is so much more enjoyable when you know how it's made and the work that goes into it. Your pictures were wonderful, too! On an un/related note, I just tried my hand at a mini sprint triathlon and had a blast! Signing up for another in September! Cheers!

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  9. Wow ~ great post and so informative! Very thorough with terrific photos as well.

    I have enjoyed perusing many of your posts. Thank you for stopping by and introducing yourself :)

    Kindly, Lorraine

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  10. What a terrific post--very thorough and informative. I had no idea that Parmesan was nutritious. How cool is that? I use Parmesan in many of the recipes on my blog. In fact, I linked to this article in my post today. Great job!

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