Parmesan, or Parmigiano Reggiano as it’s identified in its native Italy, is a tough, grainy cheese comprised of uncooked milk, rennet, and salt.
First produced by Benedictine and Cistercian monks a thousand years in the past, at the moment Parmigiano Reggiano is made in the identical area in a lot the identical method.
What has modified, considerably, is manufacturing quantity and international demand. In 2022, a document 64,202 tonnes (manufacturing worth €1.8bn) of Pamigiano Reggiano was bought in worldwide markets. Highest export volumes have been achieved within the US, adopted by France and the UK.
With shopper turnover just lately hitting an all-time excessive of €2.9bn, FoodNavigator is investigating what makes Parmigiano Reggiano distinctive. How is that this famed product – thought of the ‘king of cheeses’ – made? And what programs do producers of the protected designation of origin (PDO) cheese put in place to guard towards potential meals fraud?
What makes Parmigiano Reggiano the ‘actual deal’?
The cheese has benefited from varied types of safety because the Nineteen Fifties, however in 1966 Parmigiano Reggiano grew to become one of many first merchandise to be labeled a PDO beneath European legislation.
Parmigiano Reggiano facet streams
Aspect streams from the Parmigiano Reggiano manufacturing course of have lengthy been leveraged to restrict waste and enhance meals manufacturing.
Butter, for instance, was historically comprised of the cream left behind within the night milking batch. Ricotta, too, may be comprised of reheating leftover milk.
Any extra whey continues to be fed to pigs within the area for the manufacturing of chilly cuts, together with Parma ham.
In response to these PDO specs, Parmigiano Reggiano is recognised for its distinguishing options: starting from a fine-grained and flake construction, a aromatic aroma, a fragile style – ‘flavoursome with out being pungent’ – and excessive solubility and digestibility.
Beneath EU legislation, the cheese have to be comprised of uncooked milk produced from cows within the outlined geographical space, from fodder principally produced (not less than 75%) in that very same space.
This space includes the a part of the province of Bologna to the left of the River Reno, the a part of the province of Mantua to the proper of the River Po, and the provinces of Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia.
The precise bodily, chemical and microbiological properties of the milk – which assure the precise traits of Parmigiano Reggiano – are the results of the weight-reduction plan fed to the dairy cows, which features a strict ban on the usage of silage.
“The explanation why Parmigiano Reggiano is a product with a designation of protected origin is linked to micro organism,” defined Ilaria Bertinelli, who comes from a household of Parmigiano Reggiano producers.
Three lactic acid micro organism essential to Parmigiano Reggiano manufacturing naturally develop on the grass inside the outlined geographical space. Through the manufacturing course of, many micro organism are eradicated through heating and ageing processes, however these three micro organism survive.
That is additionally why the manufacturing space is bordered by pure boundaries. On the opposite facet of the River Po, for instance, the place Grana Padana is made, this identical mixture of micro organism doesn’t exist.
“PDO signifies that the product and the land can’t be separated,” Bertinelli advised us throughout a latest go to to Parmigiano Reggiano producer Ciaolatte within the Province of Parma. “Should you made this cheese in a distinct a part of the world, it might be completely different.”
Producing Parmigiano Reggiano: From milking to curdling
Ciaolatte is likely one of the greater than 300 dairies producing Parmigiano Reggiano in Italy. Right here, as in all producing the famed onerous cheese, manufacturing begins with milk from two milkings: one within the night, and one the next morning.
Cheese manufacturing begins in copper vats. Every vat produces two wheels of Parmesan per day with a complete of 1,100-1,200
The night milk is left in a single day, throughout which period the cream rises to the floor. Within the morning, half of this cream is eliminated, leaving a low-fat milk which is blended in copper vats – in equal portions – with entire milk from the morning milking. Every vat produces two wheels of Parmesan per day from a complete of 1,100-1,200L of milk, which means round 550-600L of uncooked milk is required to make one wheel of cheese.
As soon as the reduced-fat and entire milks are mixed, the cheesemaker heats the vat to round 36-37˚C, mimicking a cow’s physique temperature. Throughout this heating course of, the cheesemaker provides the fermented whey starter tradition.
The starter tradition is used every single day, and added to every single day, defined Bertinelli. “It’s fully indigenous, and this course of has gone on for hundreds of years…It comprises all of the ferments and microorganisms that may [influence] the traits of this cheese from this dairy.”
Relying on its acidity, round 27-30L of starter tradition is added per vat. The upper the acidity of the tradition (doubtless because of hotter climate circumstances), the much less fermented whey is added.
Through the heating course of, round 20g of rennet – a by-product of the meat processing business sourced from the abdomen of suckling calves – can be added to the milk and whey combination, which kickstarts the curdling course of. Inside a interval of round 7-8 minutes, the milk transforms right into a curd with the feel of a thick yogurt.
It’s now time for the reducing course of to start. In cheesemaking, curd is minimize into completely different sizes relying on the kind of cheese. The reducing determines the ultimate texture, defined Bertinelli. “The finer the curd, the tougher the cheese. For gorgonzola, greater items [of curd] make it creamier.”
Within the making or Parmigiano Reggiano, the curd is minimize into small particles the dimensions of rice grains to make sure a effective, granular texture within the closing product.
From moulding to maturation
As soon as the curd is sufficiently minimize, the cooking course of begins, bringing the curd’s temperature as much as 51-55˚C. The cheesemakers measure the temperature in response to the French-derived Réaumur scale, which shows as round 44-45 on their Réaumur probe.
The usage of the Réaumur probe in Parmesan cheesemaking dates again to the Center Ages, when numerous French monks labored in Parmigiano Reggiano-making Italian monasteries. Use of this temperature scale is extraordinarily uncommon these days, however in Parmesan manufacturing, the custom stays.
The 51-55˚C (or 44-45 Réeamur) temperature is important, as a result of it beneath the pasteurisation temperature of 60˚C and above. Parmigiano Reggiano is a uncooked milk cheese, confused Bertinelli. The 51-55˚C temperature can be low sufficient to make sure these three lactic acid micro organism stay alive and lively.
After round 6-7 minutes, the curd transforms into cheese. All in all, the cheesemaking course of is comparatively fast, defined Bertinelli. It takes about 20-25 minutes to rework the milk into curd and into cheese, after which one hour for the cheese ‘grains’ to settle to the underside of the vat. After all after that, the method is longer. As soon as moulded, the cheese is simply prepared for consumption after between two and 7 years.
The settled ‘grains’ on the underside of the vat seal collectively to type a ‘cheese mass’, at which level the cheesemakers take away and form it in moulds. The cheese stays for sooner or later in a straight mould, one evening in a plastic ‘matrix’ to imprint details about its manufacturing on the rind – together with the manufacturing month, 12 months, the dairy ID, and complex Parmigiano Reggiano inscriptions. The next day, the cheese is transferred into chrome steel moulds for 2 days.
“After three days, the cheese is formed and able to be salted,” Bertinelli advised FoodNavigator. At this level, the cheese is submerged in a closely salted brine made with salt sourced from Sicily for a interval of 19 days.
After 19 days adopted by a fast two-hour stop-off in a heat room, the cheese is prepared for maturation.
How does maturation influence style and texture?
A ‘enormous’ distinction in style and texture is noticed as cheese ages, defined Ilaria Bertinelli.
As soon as a cheese is aged previous 18 months, ‘little crystals’ start to type. Whereas many imagine these crystals to be salt, they’re the truth is the amino acid tyroside, a constituent a part of the milk protein casein.
The longer the maturation course of, the extra proteins are damaged down. “For people who find themselves illiberal to dairy proteins, they’re fully damaged down when the cheese is matured 36 months and over. In a 36-month-old cheese, these crystals are very evident.”
A minimal 12-month maturation course of have to be noticed earlier than the cheese may be formally thought of Parmigiano Reggiano, however a minimal of 24 months is mostly noticed. Throughout this time, the cheese is brushed and turned the wrong way up – today by machine – each ten days on common.
In response to Parmigiano Reggiano’s PDO specs, the minimal weight of every wheel is 30kg. However at Ciaolatte, the ultimate product often weighs between 40-45kg every.
Defending Parmigiano Reggiano
Producers of Parmigiano Reggiano have lengthy been working to distinguish their manufacturing from different, cheaper imitation merchandise.
In 1935, dairy farmers joined forces to ascertain the Consortium of Parmigiano Reggiano. Right this moment, the Consortium is answerable for defending, monitoring and safeguarding the cheese’s PDO and making certain ‘that no different product bears names, marks and/or different distinctive marks that might breach’ the PDO or mislead customers.
It’s the Consortium that gives dairies with the bands to mark manufacturing particulars into the rind, and in working to make sure Parmigiano Reggiano’s high quality, after one 12 months of cheese maturation the Consortium organises for an inspector to go to every producer. The inspector hammers every wheel of cheese and listens for any sort of sound: if the cheese mass is compact, with no cracks or holes, there is no such thing as a sound.
At this level, the Consortium manufacturers an oval mark with the phrases ‘Parmigiano Reggiano Consorzio Tutela’ onto the cheese, which is now formally Parmigiano Reggiano.
If, however, the cheese does include tiny holes or cracks lower than 5mm in diameter, the Consortium will nonetheless model it as Parmigiano Reggiano, however it’ll additionally engrave traces into the rind as a mark that high quality could also be compromised. The Consortium recommends these cheese be consumed after one 12 months, slightly than the minimal two.
Inside Parmigiamo Reggiano, as inside most premium meals merchandise, meals fraud does exist. In response to the Consortium, the estimated international turnover of counterfeit parmesan stands at round $2bn (€1.85bn).
Apart from offering distinctive markings and brandings, the Consortium has additionally partnered labored with digital labels to assist enhance authenticity and traceability.
Inside Europe, nonetheless, Parmesan-related meals fraud is not such an enormous challenge, defined Bertinelli. Due to geographical indication legal guidelines, the one ‘parmesan’ bought throughout the EU is Parmigiano Reggiano.
Outdoors of EU jurisdiction, nonetheless, a lot onerous cheese produced exterior of Italy is marketed as ‘parmesan’. Bertinelli believes customers are sometimes misled into believing such a cheese is produced in Italy.
“Should you suppose you’re shopping for one thing and as a substitute they provide you one thing else, that’s dishonest,” she confused. “Understanding the origin of your product is a shopper’s proper.”