Our first stop on the Emilia Delizia Food Tour was to learn about Parmigiano Reggiano cheese making, and, of course, to taste some of that delicious aged cow juice.
Basically, we learned how to spot imposter cheese by learning the traditional process for this region.
We pulled up to the production facility early in the morning (around 9:00am). However, this is late by cheese making standards.
After slipping into our gear, we headed into the production area.
Upon arriving in the production area, Paolo gave us a brief history about Parmigiano Reggiano.
Paolo explained that the milk must arrive in the vats within 2 hours of being milked in order to receive the DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) designation to be called Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. This means the cheese is made 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.
If the two hour window is not met for Parmigiano Reggiano, the milk will be used for other cheese products, such as ricotta.
Soon after the cheese master came over to begin the next stage of the process.
The first step is to separate the curds from the whey.
The curd is then cut into two pieces which will ultimately become two wheels of cheese. They let us taste a piece of the cheese at this stage. It tastes fresh like mozzarella, but has the squeaky texture of a curd.
Once the cheese has drained it is placed in a series of molds to shape and further dry age the cheese.
Including a wrap to imprint the formal Parmigiano Reggiano name around the cheese wheel. Below is a picture of the mold and a wheel of cheese after the imprint mold is removed.
When the cheese has processed through the molds, the mold is removed and the cheese wheel is placed in salt baths for three weeks to further dry and age the cheese.
After the cheese is done with its bath, it rests on wooden shelves until it is ready for inspection.
The cheese wheels rest on the shelves for a minimum of 12 months. After aging for a year, the cheese wheel is ready for inspection.
An independent expert (battitore) evaluates each wheel by tapping the cheese wheel with a special hammer. The tester listens for tones indicating whether the cheese has aged in the way it should.
The cheese master gave us a demonstration of the inspection.
If the cheese wheel passes, then it is fire branded with a oval Consorzio Tutela Parmigiano Reggiano certification mark.
The cheese is not Parmigiano Reggiano until it receives the certification mark.
Once the tour was finished, we tasted Parmigiano Reggiano ages for various different months.
In addition to cheese, the cheese shop had other trinkets available for purchase. Cute and small.
A wonderful experience all round, but I am pretty excited for our next stop to try some balsamic.
On these tours, I have to remember not to think too much about the next stop, and enjoy the beauty of what’s right in front of you.