Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bologna - This past weekend, I met someone who gets just as excited about cheese as I do.

Our first day in Bologna started with a tour of Parmigiano Reggiano factory #2552 led by the energetic Alessandro Martini, owner and creator, of Italian Days Food Experiences. He took us through the various stages of making Parmesan cheese - starting with the cooking of the raw milk all the way til the finished product - that sits on the many wooden shelves to age for at least 12 months.

I'm in cheese Nirvana - where the Parmesan is left to age.
Parmigiano Reggiano is named after the producing areas near Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna (all in Emilia-Romagna), and Mantova (in Lombardia), Italy. Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labeled “Parmigiano-Reggiano.”

If the wheel passes inspection, then it receives the highest distinction and is labeled as D.O.P., which means Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin.) This label is mostly used for local produce of a specific region as well as for traditional processed products such as the Parmigiano Reggiano and prosciutto di Modena or Parma.

Here, you can see the various "branding" on the wheel of Parmesan.
Every day, the cheese “chef” makes 20 to 24 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano - which starts in these large, copper vats. It takes 160 gallons of milk to make one wheel, Martini told us.
One of the cheese "chefs" constantly stirs and monitors the cooking milk.
Here, one of the chefs checks on the curds.
“It’s one amazing bowl of cheese,” he said. I, wholeheartedly, agree.

When the fresh milk arrives, it is separated. The whey, cream and fat is “steamed” to make fresh ricotta. This is no ordinary ricotta. If I lived here, I think I could eat this kind of ricotta with a bowl of sliced strawberries every day!

Later, we enjoyed the fresh ricotta with a dollop of balsamic jelly. Delicious!
Some of the whey also is fed to the pigs in the area “so you get-ta big-a leg for prosciutto,” explained Martini as he talked about the processing. (In the afternoon, we also saw how prosciutto is made.)

After the cheese is cooked, two men are needed to collect the compacted curds in a piece of muslin before being divided in two and placed into the plastic molds.

The cheese is flipped every hour to release air bubbles. After eight hours, a plastic “belt” is wrapped around the wheel. This belt is imprinted with the Parmigiano-Reggiano name, the factory’s number, and the month and year of production.

After three days, the wheel is placed in a water bath with Italian sea salt and soaks for three weeks so the salt has time to penetrate through the entire wheel. The cheese is flipped in the bath every day to produce an even soak.

Many wheels were soaking in the sea-salt bath at the factory.
After the cheese is aged for at least 12 months, D.O.P. officials come around from time to time to test the cheese to determine its grade.

“No air bubbles, okay baby, you can be Parmigiano-Reggiano first class,” Martini said. Then, he said, the factory can age this cheese as long it wants. If the wheel contains some little bubbles, he said, officials grade the cheese as second-class, which can be aged as long as 27 to 30 months.

Here, you can see the wheels being "branded."
After seeing the cheese being branded, we reached the sampling stage of the tour. It was barely 10 a.m., but we were drinking Italian Lambrusco wine and sampling two kinds of Parmesan Cheese.

Could life get any better? Oh wait, we still had lunch in two hours and more to see. I’ll write more about the rest of this amazing foodie tour (which we paid for ourselves) soon.


Mangia Bene!

Just follow the light to cheese heaven!
(Note: I tried my best to take notes during our tour, so hopefully the process makes sense. Any errors are completely my own doing and I apologize.)

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4 comments:

A Seasonal Cook in Turkey said...

How lucky are you!! Very interesting post and great pics as usual! I will go back to it with pleasure.

Joy said...

Thank you! First time in Italy and I hope to return again while we are living so close here.

Philip Curnow said...

Very interesting. We also promote similar private local tours on our own www.deliciousitaly.com. To avoid confusion we do not endorse the above article in anyway, but do recommend you make a trip to such factories as part of your vacation in Italy. Check out our own articles from the above website.

Joy said...

Hi Philip! Thanks for commenting! When I wrote this blog post, I had no idea about your website. It does look like you offer some nice tours so I'll keep it in mind for when we plan our next Italy trip. Ciao!

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