Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Parmesan cheese, is a hard, granular cheese. The name “Parmesan” is often used generically for various imitations of this cheese, although European jurisprudence forbids this. It is named after the producing areas, which comprise the Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna (only the area to the west of the river Reno), Modena (all in Emilia-Romagna), and Mantova (in Lombardia, but only the area to the south of river Po), Italy. Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labelled “Parmigiano-Reggiano”, and European law classifies the name, as well as the translation “Parmesan”, as a protected designation of origin. Parmigiano is the Italian adjective for Parma and Reggiano that for Reggio Emilia. Outside the EU, the name “Parmesan” can legally be used for cheeses similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano, with only the full Italian name unambiguously referring to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It is known as the “King of Cheeses.”
How it’s Made
Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. The whole milk of the morning milking is mixed with the naturally skimmed milk of the previous evening’s milking, resulting in a part skim mixture. This mixture is pumped into copper-lined vats. Starter wheyis added, and the temperature is raised to 33–35 °C. Calf rennet is added, and the mixture is left to curdle for 10–12 minutes. The curd is then broken up mechanically into small pieces (around the size of rice grains). The temperature is then raised to 55 °C with careful control by the cheese-maker. The curd is left to settle for 45–60 minutes. The compacted curd is collected in a piece of muslin before being divided in two and placed in molds. There is 1100 L of milk per vat, producing two cheeses each. The curd making up each wheel at this point weighs around 45 kg . The remaining whey in the vat was traditionally used to feed the pigs from which “Prosciutto di Parma,” was produced. The barns for these animals were usually just a few yards away from the cheese production rooms.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is commonly grated over pasta dishes, stirred into soups and risottos, and eaten on its own. It is often shaved or grated over other dishes like salads. Slivers and chunks of the hardest parts of the crust are sometimes simmered in soup. They can also be just roasted and eaten as a snack. The hollowed-out crust of a whole wheel of Parmigiano can be used as a serving pot for large groups.
According to legend, Parmigiano-Reggiano was created in the course of the Middle Ages in Bibbiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia. Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th and 14th centuries, Parmigiano was already very similar to that produced today, which suggests its origins can be traced to far earlier. It was praised as early as 1348 in the writings of Boccaccio; in the Decameron, he invents a ‘mountain, all of grated Parmesan cheese’, on which ‘dwell folk that do nought else but make macaroni and ravioli, and boil them in capon’s broth, and then throw them down to be scrambled for; and hard by flows a rivulet of Vernaccia, the best that ever was drunk, and never a drop of water therein.’
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