There is no home that does not have a piece in the refrigerator, it is a symbol of Italian cuisine and one of the most used cheeses, and not only in our country: it is Parmigiano Reggiano, a name recognized all over the world. It is so well known that we use it practically as a synonym for "hard cheese to be grated", but it is not really the same as all the others.
Parmigiano Reggiano is a product with great value, a rigid disciplinary and controls that really make it the king of cheeses. We trust its high-quality brand, but in addition to the Consortium logo and the Protected Designation of Origin label there is a much more complex world, made up of dairies and producers, which follow their own rules, following their own style. their milk and work with peculiar production methods, often centuries old. Not easy to find in large retailers, but not from Eataly, which in all its stores around Italy has a unique assortment. "All the products from Eataly have been selected according to Slow Food values: clean, good and right – explains Fabio Benvenuti, Category Manager of Salami and Cheese – Not just thinking about the ingredients, but the whole chain, always a lot closed: from breeding to the type of seasoning. Our producers have hands, times, traditions and beliefs and this gives life to different products. In a territory as small as that of Parmigiano production, the variety of products that can be found is incredible ". The "parmigiani" are not all the same, in fact there is not one that is equal to another – that's why it is a cheese to explore.
What does Parmigiano mean (and what is not)
Parmigiano Reggiano is an ancient cheese, produced in the Middle Ages in the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries of Parma and Reggio Emilia and still today it is done in only one area of Emilia, only with milk from the area of origin, natural rennet, salt, without the addition of additives and preservatives (prohibited for Parmigiano Reggiano). Cows can only feed on local fodder, produced according to the traditional drying method (haymaking) and the use of fermented fodder such as corn silage, which is very common, is strictly forbidden. Here are the points that unite 350 small craft dairies that work with the strictly raw milk of about 3000 farmers.
The rule of the two summers
The seasoning is long, minimum one year, and makes the cheese a concentrate of nutrients and a little water. It takes at least 24 months for it to reach its maximum expression however: the cheese makers and the expert beater say that the cheese has to pass two summers, that is to undergo for two years the enzymatic transformations that change the pasta of Parmigiano Reggiano and that thanks to the heat are more intense. These transformations take place at the level of proteins and fats, making this cheese even more digestible and increasing the complexity of aromas and aromas. After 30 months it is branded with a gold-colored sticker, because around three years it expresses its maximum fragrance, then the structure takes on a more chalky consistency and the taste becomes almost spicy, achieving unexpected results … much loved by connoisseurs.
Biodiversity in the kitchen
Maturing is not synonymous with quality, but with taste and use in the kitchen. The biodiversity of Parmigiano is a precious value, which makes this cheese always different (and far from being standardized like the products of big industry). At 12-18 months it tastes of milk and yogurt, it is perfect in flakes, as an aperitif, in cold dishes and paired with sparkling white wines. Around 24 months it reaches the right balance between sweet and savory, develops the umami, the fifth savory taste, is perfect in cooking and grated on first courses. From the 30 months its consistency becomes crumbly and the flavor decided, perfect for stuffed and baked pasta, or as a dessert in combination with fruit and honey. Over 40 months it offers pleasant hints of spice and becomes a meditation cheese, to be tasted with wines such as Sauternes. Ever tried to make it "a vertical"? As for wines, it is very interesting to taste the same products but different vintages – you can do it at home, or in the tastings that are organized periodically in Eataly stores.
The extreme seasoning: 90 months
There is also an "extreme" Parmigiano, aged 90 months by the Gennari dairy. A long and difficult challenge that however gives life to a cheese that recalls the spicy notes of cocoa and refers to the intense and warm smell of wood. The Parmigiano of the Malandrone Dairy 1477 has a good seasoning of 96 months, a farm that controls the entire supply chain, from the cultivation of the fields to the finished product. Thanks to the marked notes of hay, dried fruit and dried mushrooms and to the dry, friable and granular consistency, it can be enjoyed alone or combined with more intense and spicy aromas like mustard.
The mountain product
Since 2013, the term "Mountain Product" has been introduced by the European Union for all food products originating in the European mountainous areas. Parmigiano can also boast of this additional brand with over 110 dairies and over 1,200 breeders spread in the mountain area of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna. This special Parmigiano must be produced from 100% milk in stalls in mountain areas, from cows fed with more than 60% of the Apennine fodder, and be strictly matured on site. The final taste of Parmigiano di Montagna 26 months of Melandrone 1477, for example, is sweet, with aromas of fresh grass typical of cows grown on pasture and a beautiful intense straw yellow color. A characteristic flavor, even more pronounced in the 36 month aging.
Red cows, white cows
The breeds of native Italian cows are many, and each one produces a special and very recognizable milk: "It is not trivial, each breed produces a milk with a protein value, a taste, and organoleptic characteristics are very different. Which can be enhanced in 100% pure cheeses "explains Fabio Benvenuti. The milk of Bianca Modenese Slow Food Presidium, for example, has an excellent ratio between fat content and protein index and makes the taste of Parmigiano Reggiano Dop by Bianca Modenese of the Caseificio Rosola, a small town in the municipality of Zocca on the Apennines: a High digestibility, rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals.
The Consorzio Vacche Rosse protects and controls instead the Parmigiano produced with cows milk of the ancient Reggiana breed, fed with grass and hay and worked following the typical procedures of the past. The cheese obtained has aromatic notes reminiscent of melted butter, hay and dried fruit, and is therefore recommended in combination with nuts and hazelnuts.