When we go to buy our favorite cheese in the local supermarket how many of us give a thought to its origin? This thought occurred to me while sampling a variety of cheeses during my breakfast buffet while on my recent visit to Bologna, Italy.
I asked my hotel reception for some information, and based on their advice I decided to go to Parma, a short journey to the North of Bologna to see how cheese was made.
Parma (hence, the term Parmesan Cheese) is home to the cheese making industry and has many producers of this automatic and the rarest of the cheese. I got some glimpses into the entire process of cheese making at the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese factory.
I also came to know the fine distinction between the Parmesan Cheese and the authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese. This is an important and might change the way you buy cheese, just as it has changed mine.
Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese has specific characteristics; therefore you cannot call all varieties of Parmesan Cheese as the Parmigiano-Reggiano which is a highly regulated produce that has the DOP stamp of Authenticity
The DOP incidentally is formed by the European Union made to promulgate the law for protection of cultural specialties and traditional foods in Europe with a view to protect the originality of a culture!
A product with the DOP stamp of approval indicates that it meets all the procedures and rules for production, ingredients and quality control. DOP also helps in preserving the tradition and history of a product as well as the local artisans and producers behind it.
A variety of Cheese can be called Parmigiano-Reggiano only if –
- It is made exclusively in the Parma or Reggio Emilia region of Italy by its specific producers.
- It should be aged between minimum 12 months to maximum 3 years.
- It is made by the producers certified to make this Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- Every individual cheese wheel has to be inspected before getting the DOP stamp.
- Production should be in the authentic traditional method.
- It is produced from milk of the cows that are only fed hay and milked only twice a day.
- The time of transit or travel of raw milk to the cheese factory should not exceed two hours.
- The production time, i.e. time after milking up to making cheese should not exceed 20 hours.
History of the Parmesan Cheese
The Parmesan Cheese has its origin in the 1300s and its secrets have been passed down the 40 generations of cheese masters.
The procedure is traditional and these cheese makers use original handmade techniques and depend very little on technology. The cows are fed naturally and never over-milked.
The 3 main ingredients in Parmesan Cheese are – salt, locally sourced milk, and rennet – the natural enzyme. No artificial colors or preservatives are used. It is one of the best cheeses that you can get.
It is important to ethically buy only the DOP marked authentic cheese even if it appears to be costlier, since fake variety of Parmesan Cheese may have ingredients like the sorbic acid, cellulose powder, and cheese cultures which are illegal while making the Parmigiano-Reggiano.