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Parmesan Style Cheese Info

Cheese Making Help From Italy

I have had very good luck getting friends in Italy to connect me with the finest cheese makers, I find they are great with sharing once they know how serious I am about the process and details. Indeed, they insist that I see all aspects of the process and make sure that I understand the concepts. Everything from the rennet and culture aspects to the final finished curd decisions and aging dynamics.

This session will be in two parts because I would like to address a simple Parma style cheese for the home cheese maker made from a common store bought milk and with tools that should easily be found in your kitchen.

In part two, I would like to extend this and show a real Parma style cheese as I see it prepared vat-side made from the freshest of milk in Italy and how someone with a bit of cheese making experience can craft this from a good local milk source.


Variations in Style

In this session we explore one of the most ancient and unique cheeses of all times. In the US, our respect for this cheese has been tainted by that little green box that was always on the table with pasta throughout our youth. Where this came from and why is probably lost in industrial food history in America.

The real deal is from the north of Italy represented by the following 2 regions:

Parmigiano-Reggiano | Which is legally designated in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna all south of the Po River in Emilia-Romagna as well as in the Mantova area in Lombardia north of the Po River.

Parmigiano referring to the city of Parma and Reggiano of course references Reggio Emilia.

Grana Padano | This is quite similar to the Parmigiano-Reggiano It is produced mainly in the Lombardia area north of the Po River. This cheese has somewhat less stringent requirements. The cheese contains less fat, the cows may be fed silage, it is aged less time, and the milk can be several days old.

Parmesan | In addition the name, Parmesan is used for the many cheeses imitating Parmigiano-Reggiano such as those sold in the US.

"Grana" or grain is a term often associated with this cheese historically perhaps due to the characteristic grain structure of the aged cheese. The cheese is most often opened, not with a sharp knife, but with a series of knives which splits the cheese along the grain structure.


What Makes Parmigiano-Reggiano a Unique Cheese

The freshness of the milk | For the real Parma style, the milk comes in the late afternoon, rests overnight for the cream to rise, theskimmed milk is run into the vats the next morning and then the full fat mornings milk is added to the vat. For Grana Padano the milk is not required to be this fresh and is made twice a day with a leaner milk.

The natural Flora for converting the lactose | The culture for ripening this cheese comes directly from the milk. It is still very common to see the whey from previous day batches used for the fresh milk. Even though the EU regulators are concerned about this they are not finding any problem with it so far. This whey is however under close testing. I am sure that it works because it has been done for so long that the cultures have been well isolated on the farm and are very competitive in nature.

The texture | Because of the very small cut of the curds and the rate at which they are cooked along with the curd mass consolidation taking place in the vat, the final cheese has a very granular texture. This is where the name Grana comes into the picture.

The long aging | True Parma is usually aged for a full 2 years before it is released and it is not uncommon to be aged for a lot longer than this. I have been offered 8-10 year old Parma but my preference is in the 3-4 year old cheese. The long aging is due in part to the small curd cut and high cook temperatuer as well as the extended salt brining.

This is definitely the cheese that travels and keeps well and is very similar to what the Roman Legions would have marched on.

Note: Another interesting point here is that "Grana" the same term used for this cheese is also a common term for "Money" in the Italian vernacular. This makes more sense when you see the aging rooms, usually with several thousand of these 85-90 pound cheeses stacked floor to ceiling and you find out that the banks are heavily involved in this business where cheese is considered "Real Equity." Yes, there have been several major multimillion dollar "Cheese Heists".