Parmesan Style Raw Milk Cheese Info
The Real Deal
Parmesan cheese is still produced in the way it was produced eight centuries ago. It is produced in the same places, using the very same practices, the same methods in order to keep and obtain the same characteristics, the same aspect, the same fragrance.
In 1200, Parmesan cheese already acquired its typical aspects: its characteristics were known for many years before and it is obvious this cheese has origins more ancient than those times.
Legend has it that this is the cheese that the Roman Legions marched on.
In addition to the cows' diet, there are different and unique micro flora and yeasts in the milk. The American practice of heating the milk for pasteurization kills these microorganisms. However, since Italians use raw milk to make Parmesan, these microorganisms add unique flavor components to the cheese that can give you extreme highs and lows of flavor. Pasteurized milk gives you a more consistent product, and it saves money for the manufacturer, but the flavor is hardly comparable.
It's not just the milk that's different in the United States. American cheese makers often use non-animal rennet to curdle the milk. And the starter cultures differ, with Italians using the whey left from the cheese-making of the day before, while Americans generally purchase starters from enzyme manufacturers. Finally, each cheese-making company, and each plant of each company, will have slightly different microorganisms in its environment, which alters the flavor of the cheese being produced.
Considerations for Making a Small Batch
For the small batch cheese maker, having access to raw or very fresh milk, there will be several considerations in making this cheese:
Adjusting the milk fat | This can be done by collecting fresh milk in the evening and then again in the morning. The cream is then skimmed from the evening milk and the low fat milk is blended with the full fat morning milk.
Sourcing an appropriate culture | In Italy, they still use a culture that is prepared from yesterdays whey. It would be very difficult to find an appropriate whey culture in the US and commercially this is usually rejected by the inspectors. I use a prepared Yogurt culture (Y1) here because of its 50:50 blend of Thermophilic and Bulgaricus cultures. Along with the raw milk that has been held at room temperature overnight, this gives me my "local" complexity.
The vats | The traditional copper vats would be hard to come by in the US and inspectors for small farms are not happy about the use of copper, so this is probably not an option here.
Cooking the curds quickly | In Italy, the heating is done with steam and can be done quite quickly. I work here with a Bain Marie style pot system. Traditionally it was not a problem for me to raise the temperature in the outer water pot but with such high heat demands, I find that I need to add an amount of boiling water to the outer pot or sink to get the curds cooked quickly. I simply keep a good volume of boiling water on the side for additions.
Dealing with the smaller mass of curds | The shape of a cylindrical pot or rectangular vat create a challenge in consolidating the curds under their own weight in the hot whey. The solution will be to extract the curds to cloth and then suspend this in the hot whey for consolidation.
Also, more weight in pressing will be needed to consolidate the curd mass well.
It is this consolidation in the vat of the small dry curds that gives Parmigiano-Reggiano its final texture and the right to the name "Grana".