Parmigiano Reggiano is a very prestigious cheese that is famous and appreciated in all parts of the world. It is a hard cheese with very fine grains, and is made using partially skimmed raw cow’s milk. A natural straw-coloured rind covers the deep or light straw yellow colour of the cheese, which is characterised by a fragrant, delicate and flavoursome taste that becomes sharp with aging.
The unique and extraordinary history of Parmigiano Reggiano has lasted nine centuries so far, and is still continuing today in the same places and using the same techniques as when it began.
The origins of Parmigiano Reggiano go back to the Middle Ages, around the 12th century according to general belief. The first dairies appeared in the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries of Parma in Reggio Emilia: thanks to the abundance of water and large pastures, this area that surrounds Emilia soon began spreading the production of a hard cheese, obtained by processing the milk in large vats.
Today, Parmigiano Reggiano is still made using the same ingredients, in the same places, and with the same ritual gestures as nine centuries ago. Today, just like then, Master dairymen continue producing this cheese with milk coming from the zone of origin, natural rennet, salt and no additives, in an artisanal manner and with the same passion and loyalty. The history of Parmigiano Reggiano is being continued by about 350 small local artisan dairies, representatives of approximately 3,200 farmers-milk producers, who have legally obtained recognition of their determination to keep the process methods and the extremely high quality of the cheese they make unchanged.
It is the story of how Parmigiano Reggiano is guaranteed as being genuine according to precise standards, which are applied with rigid self-disciplined conformity and rigorous checks.
Parmigiano Reggiano has been protected for more than eighty years by the protection Consortium, and loved for nine centuries because of its always generous taste.
Parmigiano Reggiano arose from the territory and the knowledge of man. It is made today in the same way as nine centuries ago: the same ingredients (milk, salt, rennet), no additives, the same care and passion, the same zone of origin.
The milk is produced and turned into cheese in the provinces of:
• Reggio Emilia
• Bologna, to the left of the River Reno
• Mantua, to the right of the River Po
The more than 3,200 farms where the prestigious milk is produced are concentrated here, together with around 350 dairies that transform it into cheese every day. It is where the wheels are aged for a minimum of 12 months to two years and more, and where they are checked day after day
Controlled breeding farms
Parmigiano Reggiano is made exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and part of the provinces of Mantua and Bologna, among the plains, hills and mountains enclosed between the Po and the Reno: the breeding farms where the cows are fed with fodder produced in this area are concentrated here. The fodder respects rigid rules that forbid the use of ensiled forage and fermented feed.
Processing the milk
Parmigiano Reggiano is made with the milk produced in the evening and then skimmed, added to the whole milk that is collected in the morning. Poured into the typical copper vats, which are shaped like upside-down bells, the milk is enriched with natural whey and rennet to make it coagulate. The curd is broken by the master cheesemaker into minute granules, who uses an ancient tool called “spino” (whisk). After this, the mixture is cooked slowly at a temperature that reaches 55°C. The cheesy grains fall to the bottom of the vat, forming a single mass that is extracted by the cheesemaker and cut to obtain the cheese wheels. About 550 litres of milk are used to make one single wheel.
Marks of origin
Each wheel is given a casein label with a unique and progressive alpha-numeric code: this is the Parmigiano Reggiano DOP’s identity card. The month and year of production, the serial number that identifies the dairy are etched into the wheel using a special marking strip, together with the unmistakeable “PARMIGIANO REGGIANO” written in dots that appears all round the circumference.
After a few days, the wheels are immersed in a saturate solution of water and salt. Thanks to an osmotic phenomenon, the wheel absorbs the salt and dehydrates, becoming more concentrated towards the outside. This creates the rind, which is completely edible. This is the last process in the Parmigiano Reggiano production cycle, and it is followed by the aging process.
The Parmigiano Reggiano wheels are placed in long rows and left to rest on wooden tables. In this manner, the cheese releases more water, becoming more concentrated. The cheese ripening processes - caused by the enzymatic transformation of the proteins - occur during aging, giving a sensorial profile that changes according to how long aging lasts.
The cheese is aged for a minimum period of 12 months, and only the wheels that pass the selection test can continue aging until 24 months or more.
The protection Consortium experts examine each Parmigiano Reggiano wheel, and only those wheels that receive a positive evaluation can be branded DOP (controlled designation of origin). Wheels that do not present the requisites for becoming DOP have all their symbols and the dotted writing removed.
Selection and certification are very important for the consumer, because they are the absolute guarantee of product authenticity.
There are two distinct categories of Parmigiano Reggiano: first category, which presents the integral marks of origin and selection and is perfect for long aging, and Parmigiano Reggiano mezzano, recognisable to consumers because of the parallel grooves etched on the wheel, is best if eaten after a short aging period.
The use of coloured stickers on the packaging is an additional aid to the consumer for identifying the level of aging of the prepacked product available in sales points.
• RED STICKER - Parmigiano Reggiano that has aged for more than 18 months: its harmonious and delicate flavour recalls the scents of milk and fresh fruit.
• SILVER STICKER - Parmigiano Reggiano that has aged for more than 22 months: it has a soluble, crumbly and grainy appearance, with a perfectly combined sweet and salty flavour, with hints of fruit and meat broth.
• GOLD STICKER - Parmigiano Reggiano that has aged for more than 30 months: this contains the most nutritional elements and is particularly crumbly and grainy. Its flavour is decisive, with notes of spices and dry fruit.
Time transforms the cheese, and while aging Parmigiano Reggiano acquires its typical grainy structure that breaks into pieces, becoming flaky and soluble.
Parmigiano Reggiano contains only 30% of water and 70% of nutritional substances: this is why it is full of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Healthy, tasty and digestible
Thanks to the enzymes that break up the casein and make Parmigiano Reggiano extremely easy to digest, this cheese is full of essential amino acids and as such can be easily assimilated: this is why the aged version is indicated even for people who are intolerant to cow milk proteins. It is also characterised as being without lactose. Parmigiano Reggiano contains less fats than the majority of other cheeses, because produced using partially skim milk.
Full of calcium and nutritional substances
14 litres of prestigious milk from the zone of origin are needed to make one kg of Parmigiano Reggiano. A nutritional charge of proteins, vitamins, phosphorous and calcium, which stay alive during the long aging period, are concentrated in the cheese. Natural aging makes Parmigiano Reggiano easy to digest and helps it develop a blend of extraordinary aromas and flavours.
Good for all ages
Parmigiano Reggiano is the perfect ally for health and psychophysical wellbeing. Rich in nutritional substances, it is essential for children’s growth, the health of teenagers and the elderly, and for supplying immediate energy for sport. In particular, thanks to the presence of bio-available calcium, it helps children and youngsters build up a store of calcium in their bones and helps contrast osteoporosis at all ages.
ON THE TABLE
Parmigiano Reggiano is extremely versatile in the kitchen. It can be used:
• On its own, as a snack, accompanied simply by bread or served with aperitifs, or with a glass of good wine, or even combined with jams or fresh fruit;
• To enrich dishes: grated or in flakes it adds flavour and aroma to pasta, risotto, soup, but also to side dishes, vegetables and fresh salads;
• As an ingredient for preparing filled pasta, quiches and in many other recipes.
- 3,007 dairy farms/suppliers to cheese producers (3,272 in 2015)
- 251,000 cows older than 24 months for milk production
- About 15.8% of domestic milk production
- 339 cheese producers (353 in 2015)
- 3,469,865 wheels produced in 2016, equal to 139,680 tons
- 1,117 million euro, estimated production turnover (2015 production sold in 2016)
- 2,010 million euro, estimated consumer turnover
- 50,000 people involved in the production chain
- 49,400 tons exported (+5.8% compared to 2015), equal to 37% of the total product