THE BIRTH OF A MYTH
Throughout the world, Parmigiano Reggiano has always been an authentic expression of its land of origin and of Italy. This has been true since its genesis, which is old and noble and dates back to the Middle Ages. Monks were the first producers of Parmigiano Reggiano, driven by the quest for a cheese featuring one main characteristic: that it was long-lasting. They achieved this by increasing the wheel size and allowing the cheese to mass dry. This increased the cheese’s shelf-life, meaning it could be transported both locally and to areas far away from the place of production. It is this durability that has been Parmigiano Reggiano’s fortune, resulting in it travelling around the world for centuries to become an authentic expression of what is today called the Made in Italy agribusiness.
MADE TODAY, AS IT WAS NINE CENTURIES AGO
Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the oldest and richest cheeses in the world. This cheese is essentially produced as it was nine centuries ago: using the same three ingredients – milk, salt and rennet – with the same craftsmanship and production technique that has undergone very few changes over the centuries. This is thanks to the decision to keep the production fully natural, without the use of additives. Its production is governed by strict specifications registered with the European Union because Parmigiano Reggiano is a cheese with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Thus, it is a product that, based on its distinctive characteristics and its tie to the area of origin, is safeguarded by a system provided by the European Union to protect consumers and producers alike.
To bear the designation “Parmigiano Reggiano PDO”, the cheese has to be made according to strict rules. First of all, it has to be produced in the area of origin, which includes the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua to the right of the Po river, and Bologna to the left of the Reno River. This represents a surface area of approximately 10,000 square kilometres. Additionally, the production of the cow’s milk used along with the cheese’s manufacturing process, maturation, packaging and PDO grading has to take place exclusively in the area of origin.
As a result, it is not possible to make Parmigiano Reggiano cheese with milk produced outside the area of origin. Furthermore, Parmigiano Reggiano has to be made using artisanal and natural methods according to the Product Regulations and Specifications. These set forth specific production procedures (Production Standard), a special diet for cows (Feeding Regulation for Dairy Cattle) and rules for using the hot-iron mark (Marking Regulation) that must be obeyed in order for the cheese to bear the esteemed Parmigiano Reggiano PDO title.
AN UNBREAKABLE BOND WITH ITS AREA OF ORIGIN
What strongly binds Parmigiano Reggiano to its area of origin and makes it irreplicable anywhere else in the world, even if the same production techniques are used, are the aspects associated with culture and tradition. It is first and foremost a microbiological characteristic that binds Parmigiano Reggiano to its area of origin. Only raw milk produced in the area of origin is used to produce Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. This is special milk, characterised by a unique and intense bacterial activity of the local microbial flora, influenced by environmental factors. The forage, grass and hay from the area that accounts for the main feed of the cows dedicated to the production of Parmigiano Reggiano are especially influential.
These strict regulations for the feeding of cattle are particularly important because it is what cattle eat that leads to good quality milk suitable for Parmigiano Reggiano production. Furthermore, it is the forage that determines the good bacterial flora that establishes the link with the land and characterises the milk first and the cheese later.
During the production process, there are no additives – such as enzymatic additives or bacteria selected in a laboratory – added to alter the activity of the bacteria naturally found in the raw milk produced by the farms in the area of origin. Only the cheese master during the production process, thanks to the age-old cheese-making technique used for Parmigiano Reggiano, can enhance and favour the lactic bacteria that operate the positive lactic fermentations expected for the success of the cheese-making.
ONLY THREE INGREDIENTS
Only three ingredients are used to produce Parmigiano Reggiano: milk, rennet and salt. Milk is used raw, so it does not undergo heat treatments and thus features all the richness of lactic ferments naturally present in it. For the production of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, only calf rennet is used. Rennet is obtained from the stomach of suckling calves – bacterial rennet is forbidden. The final ingredient is kitchen salt (sodium chloride). The use of any additives and selected bacterial starters is prohibited.
THE MAGIC OF MATURATION
The minimum maturation required for Parmigiano Reggiano PDO classification is 12 months, but Parmigiano Reggiano reaches a degree of maturation that fully expresses its typical characteristics at approximately 24 months. It can mature up to 36 or 48 months, or longer, acquiring unexpected and unparalleled flavours and aromas. In maturation, thanks to the action of the enzymes released by lactic bacteria, proteins are broken down into smaller pieces, free peptides and amino acids – the building blocks of the protein chain. This action of protein breakdown (proteolysis) determines the structure and sensory properties of Parmigiano Reggiano and its digestibility.
The different degrees of maturation give rise to varying aromatic sensations and make it particularly versatile in the kitchen and suitable for several preparations and pairings:
12- 18 months – Parmigiano Reggiano with 12-18 months of maturation has a harmonious and delicate flavour with scents of milk, yoghurt and fresh fruit. It is particularly suitable for aperitifs paired with sparkling white wines, or to enrich salads and cold dishes.
22-24 months – Parmigiano Reggiano with 22-24 months of maturation is soluble, crumbly and grainy with the right balance between mildness and tastiness, with notes of fresh fruit, nuts and meat stock. It is perfect with medium body wines and for adding flavour to all traditional Italian dishes.
30-36 months – Parmigiano Reggiano with 30-36 months of maturation is particularly crumbly and grainy. The flavour is pronounced with notes of spices, nuts and meat stock. It is an ideal ingredient for filled and baked pasta or to be enjoyed at the end of meals, paired with fruit and honey.
40+ months – Parmigiano Reggiano with 40 or more months of maturation has passed the test of time and releases pleasant scents of spices. It is an exclusive gift and a pleasant companion to be enjoyed with structured and meditation wines.
PLEASES THE PALATE AND THE BODY
Parmigiano Reggiano’s numerous health-enhancing properties are all linked to its intrinsic product quality. These health benefits include its digestibility, source of minerals, high calcium content present in a bioavailable form and absence of additives and preservatives. The cheese also possesses organoleptic liking, meaning that it has a pleasant effect on the sensory organs, including a favourable taste and smell. Due to these characteristics, Parmigiano Reggiano is a fundamental food in the daily diet of everyone, from children to the elderly, including athletes who find Parmigiano Reggiano a fully natural energy source. Thanks to its production process, this ‘king of cheeses’ is also already naturally lactose-free 48 hours from the start of production since all its sugar (lactose) is transformed into lactic acid by lactic bacteria.
GUARDED FOR ITS GREATNESS
The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium is the protection body that includes all Parmigiano Reggiano producers who process the milk from the farmers of the area of origin into this PDO cheese in compliance with the outlined Specifications. It was set up in 1934 and has the purpose of protecting, defending and promoting the product, safeguarding its typicality and disseminating its knowledge worldwide.
Every wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano is given a mark of origin – the well-known dots and Parmigiano Reggiano wording on the rind and a casein plate on the flat surface bearing a unique and progressive alphanumeric traceability code. Furthermore, every wheel is quality tested at an age of about 12 months. Only if the wheel passes this test, is it branded with the oval selection mark. The certification of conformity with the Specifications is given by the P-R Quality Control Body on behalf of the European Union and the Ministry. Through the advocation of these identification marks, the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium ensures that consumers around the world are always enjoying authentic Parmigiano Reggiano of the highest quality.
For further information on the Consortium, the product and the processing visit www.parmigianoreggiano.it