A Taster's Journey is a newsletter on food, wine and travel. After 15 years of studying, tasting, teaching, and selling wine, I created this newsletter to not only share my passion about wine, but of food and travel as well. Each month I hope to share wines that I am drinking, food that is in season, restaurants that I have enjoyed, and places I have traveled. Enjoy!"

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Parmigiano Reggiano

October 4th, 2003

In the world of cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano is often referred to as the “king”. This Italian cheese has been hand made using the same process for 8 centuries. During a recent trip to Parma I learned what makes this cheese so special.

If you ever had a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano freshly grated over your pasta, then you understand all the fuss. Unfortunately the prepackaged can on your supermarket shelf doesn’t taste the same. Once the cheese is cut or grated, it oxidizes in the air and looses flavor rapidly. At home to preserve the freshness, always rewrap the wedge of cheese in a new piece of saran wrap after it has been cut.

So why is this cheese so special? It’s not only the sharp taste, it’s the texture as well. The cheese is still made by hand, usually only 8 to 12 wheels at a time. Mass produced cheese made by modern machines results in a very consistent product. But this consistency can also be seen as monotonously bland. Parmigiano Reggiano, on the other hand, has a mixture of creamy, flaky and crunchy textures. It’s this variety and it’s intense flavor that make it so exciting.

The process to produce Parmigiano Reggiano is rather unique. The production begins with cow’s milk from two consecutive milkings. The evening milk is left overnight to separate naturally, and the cream is then skimmed off. This partially skimmed milk is then mixed with the whole milk from the next morning’s milking. Because this process utilizes part skim milk, it is one of the lowest in fat and cholesterol.

The production is highly regulated by The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano , and can only be produced in an area of Emilia Romagna with most of the production in Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena. The aging process affects the cheese since the storage areas are not temperature controlled and season temperatures vary significantly. More specifically, cheese made in the summer is stored in warm conditions causing the butterfat to rise to the surface and evaporate. The resulting cheese is drier after it is aged and is the best selection for grating. Cheese, however, made in winter, has a higher level of butterfat after it is aged. This cheese is a bit creamier in texture and becomes the better choice to serve in chunks. Cheese is typically aged from 18 months to 3 years, with 18-24 months being the most common. Cheese that is aged for 3 years is very sharp and intense, and is an acquired taste.

The Consorzio go through great pains to insure that production follows the same methods proven successful over hundreds of years. This is terrific for us, the consumer, because we are 100% sure that we are getting an authentic product. Each cheese wheel has Parmigiano Reggiano etched all around the rind. And this etching can be easily seen on each wedge you purchase.

Life is too short for imposters, buy only the authentic Parmigiano Reggiano; and remember to ask for the season that best reflects how you want to serve the cheese.

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