Parmigiano-Reggiano is produced exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and parts of the provinces of Mantua and Bologna, on the plains, hills and mountains enclosed between the rivers Po and Reno.
These are the basic steps to produce Parmgiano Reggiano cheese:
- The milk from the evening milking is left to rest until morning in large vats, where the fatty part spontaneously rises to the surface. This is used for the production of butter or ricotta cheese.
- As soon as the whole milk form the morning milking arrives from the farm, the skimmed milk from the night before is poured into the typical bell-shaped copper cauldrons where calf rennet and fermented whey, rich in natural lactic ferments obtained from the processing of the day before, are added.
- The milk coagulates in around ten minutes, and the curd which forms is then broken down into minuscule granules using a traditional tool called “spino”.
- This is where fire comes into the picture, in a cooking process which reaches 55 degrees centigrade, after which the cheesy granules sink to the bottom of the cauldron forming a single mass.
- After resting for around thirty minutes, the cheese mass is removed, with deft movements, by the cheese maker. Cut into two parts and wrapped in its typical cloth, the cheese is then placed in a mould which will give it its final shape. Each cheese is given a unique, progressive number using a casein plate and this number remains with it just like an identity card.
- After a few hours, a special marking band engraves the month and year of production onto the cheese, as well as its cheese dairy registration number and the unmistakable dotted inscriptions around the complete circumference of the cheese wheel, which is then, after a few days, immersed in a water and salt-saturated solution. It is a process of salting by absorption which, within less than a month, closes the production cycle and opens the not less fascinating cycle of maturation.
- The cheese is allowed to rest on wooden tables where the outside of the cheese dries forming a natural crust without being treated in any way and therefore remaining perfectly edible.
The story of Parmigiano-Reggiano is a long one, and also slow, following at the natural rhythm of the seasons.
In fact, the minimum maturation time is twelve months, and only at this point can it be decided if each individual cheese is worthy of the name it was given at its birth.