Friday, January 11, 2013

The King of Cheese! Parmigiano Reggiano

Hello everyone!

For the last few days, I have been prepping for a raw cheese class that I will be teaching on Saturday, January 19 and as a result, I have been thinking a lot about raw cheese! I promise that there will be a very in depth post in the near future about the health benefits of raw cheeses and other arguments for raw milk cheese, but I want to get my class all squared away first before I share with all of you. So, in thinking about raw milk cheeses, I realized that I had not posted about one of the most famous raw milk cheeses of all - Parmigiano Reggiano...

The basics -

Cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano
Producers: Farmers from Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna (to the west of the Reno River), and Montova (to the east of the Po River).
Milk: Raw cow's milk
Aged: 18+ months
Rennet: Traditional (animal)



Parmigiano Reggiano has the PDO label, which means it has a Protected Designation of Origin. Basically, this is a trademark. In order to be called Parmigiano Reggiano, the cheese must be produced in certain regions (listed above), must be made by the recipe used since the Renaissance, and it must be approved by the Consortium (or in Italian, consorzio). Anything else that is called Parmesan is just an imitation of Parmigiano Reggiano. As for the Consortium, they are no joke. While the wheels are ageing, the people at the Consortium are constantly tasting the cheese and using little hammers to knock on the outside of the cheese to ensure that they sound alright. Every wheel is branded with: the inscription Parmigiano Reggiano, the inscription DOP (PDO, but in Italian), the inscription Consorzio Tutela as well as the identifying number of the dairy, and the production month and year. If after testing the cheese and it is not up to snuff, these identifying markers are scratched off, the cheese is grated and sold as Parmesan. The Consortium is also responsible in making sure that no one else uses the name (or trademark) Parmigiano Reggiano. Because of this, the consumer knows that they are getting the actual, superior Parmigiano Reggiano. For more information, visit www.parmigianoreggiano.com

One of the best experiences I have as a cheesemonger is breaking into one of these 80 pound wheels. We use special tools to cut into the thick rind and crack the wheel open. Once the wheel is cracked in half, you are rewarded with a beautiful nutty and fruity fragrance. If ever you have the opportunity to see a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano cracked, be sure to ask for a sample from the heart. The is the part of the cheese that is in the absolute middle - the furthest from the rind - and has the richest, most decadent flavor. It is especially tasty after being freshly cracked and being exposed to the air for the first time in around two years. I use this cheese in many things, but being Italian, I almost always use it in my pasta dishes. 

A fun event that is coming up in March is the annual Whole Foods Market "Crack Heard Round the World". This is a day where every single Whole Foods specialty department - everywhere, including the UK, Canada and all of the US - crack a wheel (or two) of Parmigiano Reggiano at the same time. It is a really super fun event with lots of samples of freshly cracked parm. Be sure to keep an eye out for this event coming up in March. At our store last year I had two rock star cheesemongers - Ryan and Manny - race against each other and see who could crack their wheel the fastest. It was so much fun! Check out the video here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=294572983942264&set=vb.157987874230719&type=2&theater I'm the one doing the countdown at the beginning :) (I couldn't figure out a way to get this video as a separate link so I had to link it through Facebook... you'll need to have a Facebook account to view this video.) You can tell in the video that we really had a blast with this event. 

Well, that's all I have for now. I'm going to be attending a Meet Your Molds class tomorrow in Novato through the California Artisan Cheese Guild that I am so excited about! Hopefully I'll be able to pass on some wonderful moldy, cheesy goodness to you all. Until then, eat, drink and be happy!