Parmigiano Reggiano – The King of Cheeses

You’ve probably seen giant wheels of cheese and wondered why is it like that!! Where does it come from? Is it really cheese!!

Join me as I take you on this journey to learn about Parmigiano Reggiano, the “King of Cheese”. It’s not to be mistaken by the name ‘parmesan’.

What is Parmigiano Reggiano?

Parmigiano Reggiano is an Italian hard, granular cheese produced from fresh cow’s milk and aged for 12–36 months. It is named after the producing areas, the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, the part of Bologna west of the Reno, and Modena (all in Emilia-Romagna); and the part of Mantua (Lombardy) south of the Po; in Italy.

Parmigiano is the Italian adjective for Parma and Reggiano that for Reggio Emilia.

“Parmigiano-Reggiano” is a Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) for cheeses produced in these provinces under Italian and European law. Outside the European Union(EU), the name “Parmesan” can legally be used for similar cheeses, with only the full Italian name unambiguously referring to PDO Parmigiano-Reggiano.

It has been called the “King of Cheeses”and is a “practically perfect food”.

The History

The history of Parmigiano Reggiano is unique and extraordinary. The journey began more than a thousand years ago and till this day, continues in the same places with the same ingredients and the same passion.

The origins of this cheese can be traced back to the Middle Ages in the province of Reggio Emilia where monks were the first producers, using salt from the salt mines and milk of cows bred in the monasteries. They were able to produce a dry paste cheese in large wheels that could be preserved. Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th and 14th centuries, Parmigiano was already very similar to that produced today, which suggests its origins can be traced to far earlier.

Parmigiano-Reggiano has been the target of organised crime in Italy, particularly the Mafia or Camorra, which ambush delivery trucks and hijack shipments.

Over the centuries, Parmigiano Reggiano has not changed its production method. Just like in the Middle Ages, the product is still made in a natural way without any additives. In the beginning of 1900, some important innovations were introduced, such as the use of fermented whey and steam heating, and these are still relevant today.

In 1934, representatives of dairies in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Mantua, agreed on the need to approve a mark of origin for their cheese. In 1954, the Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Consortium was formed.

In 1992, EEC Regulation on Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) was approved.

In 1996, Parmigiano Reggiano was recognised as a European PDO, which was a key step towards community protection of Parmigiano Reggiano, which is one of the most counterfeited and imitated cheeses in the world.

The Production

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is made with just a few simple ingredients: raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk, sea salt, starter whey and rennet (a natural enzyme produced by calves). Each wheel of cheese requires a lot of time, passion, and expertise. It takes about 550 litres of milk to produce each wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano.

One of the steps includes wrapping the cheese for about two days in a customized plastic belt containing the Parmigiano Reggiano name (printed over and over again), the factory’s number, and the month and year the cheese was made, in order to imprint the signature name on the rind. Once the cheese has become hard enough to stand on its own, each wheel is sent off to a brine bath for about 20 to 25 days and then placed on wooden shelves and aged for a minimum of 12 months and up to 36 months.

Nutritional Benefits

Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano has plenty of health benefits than the parmesan you’d find in a plastic shaker. 

  • It is lactose-free.
  • It is low in fat.
  • It is a good source of protein.
  • It is a good source of vitamins like vitamin A, vitamins B6 and B12.
  • It is a good source of minerals like calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and copper.

References:

  • Wikipedia
  • Parmigiano Reggiano

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