What makes the manufacturing of this Parma cheese unique is that it is still produced by hand thanks to the cooperation between the milk producer and the cheese maker, who transforms the milk into cheese and looks after the maturing process.
Natural enzyme 'rennet'
Giouanna Rosati, consultant, Parmigiano Reggiano, told Dairy Reporter the trademark name can only be put on cheese produced and processed in the place of origin, according to strict rules, (Production Standard), controlled feeding of the cows (Feeding Regulation) and qualitative selection and marking (Marking Regulation).
The milk and cheese production takes place in the provinces of Parma, Reggio, Emilia, Modena, Bologna to the west of the Reno River and Mantura to the east of the Po River.
Any kind of silage (e.g. corn silage), fermented food, animal origin feed or by-product of the food industry is forbidden.
“The cows are milked twice a day and the milk is taken to the cheese factory within two hours of each milking,” she said.
“The process of making hand-made cheese is milk from the evening milking round is poured into holding basins where separation of the cream takes place naturally overnight; this partly skimmed milk is then poured into copper cauldrons where it is mixed with the whole milk from the morning milking.
“After warming the milk in the copper cauldron, natural whey starter is added. This whey is a culture of natural lactic ferments obtained from the cheese making process the day before.
“The natural enzyme rennet is then added, which allows the milk to curdle. The curdled milk is broken down into small granules with a huge balloon whisk called a ‘spino’. This is followed by a cooking process, a delicate phase in the cheese making where the heat is controlled by the master cheese maker to expel water from the granules.”
Minimum period of ageing is 12 months
Once the heat is turned off, the granules sink to the bottom of the cauldron, forming a compact mass. The cheese mass is lifted from the bottom of the cauldron and divided into two parts. Each part is placed in a mold called a ‘fascera’, where it rests for two to three days.
16 liters of milk are used to make 1 kilogram of Parmigiano Reggiano
It takes 55 liters of milk to make one wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano
Parmigiano Reggiano has one of the lowest cholesterol levels of any cheese
The cheese is then immersed in a bath of water of natural salt for about 20 days to allow for the absorption of salt for flavor and ageing.
At the end of the salting process, the cheese wheel is ready to be aged. The ageing can continue for 24 months or more, during which time the cheese develops its flavor, texture and digestibility.
At the end of the minimum period of ageing (12 months) each wheel is inspected. An expert evaluates the appearance, structure, and characteristics of the cheese.