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Parmesan

By Kelly McCoy for Progressive Dairy Published on 24 May 2021
Parmesan Cheese

You know Parmesan cheese, have probably eaten it grated over pasta or a Caesar salad at a favorite Italian restaurant.

The original, gourmet version is Parmigiano-Reggiano, often given the name “king of cheeses.” Yellowish in color, it’s a hard, salty Italian cheese made with cows’ milk.

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Made in certain provinces in Italy (including Parma and Reggio Emilia, from which it gets its name) from raw semi-skimmed milk which comes from cows that don’t eat silage or fermented feeds, Parmigiano-Reggiano must be aged for 12 months at the very least. The Consorzio (Consortium) del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano is responsible for checking each wheel of cheese and enforcing quality standards, including what cows are fed.

History

The first historical mention of Parmigiano-Reggiano dates to 1254; the cheese was already known outside of Parma by then. Benedictine monks were the first makers, searching for a cheese that could be preserved for long periods of time. Cows’ milk plus salt gave them a dry cheese which could be made into large wheels that would last.

It became so popular over the centuries that, in 1612, its designation of origin was made official by the Duke of Parma.

A consortium to protect the brand of cheese was established in 1928 and updated in 2011.

Italian production

Today, the cheese is started in upturned bell-shaped copper vats for slow, natural cooking and coagulating. Each wheel takes about 550 liters (580 quarts) of milk. After the cooking and then being placed in a mold to give it shape, and after a few days have passed, the wheels are salted – immersed in a solution of water and salt – and then the maturation process begins. After maturing 12 months, the wheels are inspected and graded (in a test involving thumping them with a hammer and listening to the sound), and those that pass are hot-iron branded with grading information and origins. Wheels for export or to be sold at a premium mature longer. Exports to the U.S. are aged for at least 18 months. Forty- to 50-month wheels are considered a delicacy.

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U.S. production

The rules for the American version of Parmesan are less strict, leading to greater affordability but a difference in taste and consistency. Wisconsin makers of Parmesan include BelGioioso Cheese Inc. and Sartori Company, among several others. end mark

Chef’s tip: Chunks of Parmesan rind will add a lot of flavor when added to a spaghetti sauce and left to simmer. Be sure to take the chunks of rind out before serving your sauce, though.

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