A couple of hours south of Milan is one of Italy’s most treasured and storied regions that you may not know about. The Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy is a beautiful countryside that encompasses a lush pasture — the ideal place to cultivate epicurean goods. This region is home to important staples of Italian cuisine, with deeply rooted traditions that stretch their influence worldwide, lending itself to be superior producers of ham, balsamic vinegar, and of course Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan cheese) —”The King of Cheeses.” If your travels ever take you to this land of plenty, it would be easy to see why the culture of food in this region is especially valuable.
Parmigiano Reggiano is a cheese that bears the weight of centuries-old tradition. It carries with it an immortal process of cheese making that has been unchanged since its conception. The process, developed by the Benedictine monks in the thirteenth century, uses only three ingredients: raw milk, rennet, and salt. With that, they were able to develop a method that safely aged cheese over a long period of time. To this day, Parmigiano Reggiano, the authentic parmesan cheese can only be produced within the Emilia-Romagna region, using the same ingredients and methods.
The 352 dairy farms within the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium (the union of producers and traders) abide by a strict process in creating this natural cheese. The process begins by combining fresh, raw, unpasteurized milk from local cows with calf rennet — the enzyme used to jumpstart the curdling process. It is whisked around in a large copper vat, separating the solidifying cheese and the liquids over a short period of time. Once the cheese completely sinks to the bottom, it is scooped up and molded into a large wheel. It is later brined in salt and is set to mature properly over the course of at least two years before being sold.
This arduous and meticulous process requires a masterful hand to create and goes on year-round without fail. It makes absolute sense that these wheels (of fortune) cost what they do at the market.
True Italian chefs know that there is no substitute for authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, and it’s potential in dishes soar higher than as just a garnish on a bowl of bolognese. Unlike its American counterfeit of the grated variety, parmesan in its truest form can be delivered in innovative ways that take advantage of its robust flavor.
Over time, Parmigiano Reggiano was established as a Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP), a product with a protected designation of origin — which means that it is a good produced only in a specific region of Italy, requiring a specific production process that cannot be duplicated elsewhere, due to its association to culture and historical value.
Parmigiano is truly valued in many frames of Italian culture, especially in the Emilia-Romagna region. It’s special to all the chefs and gourmands — who value true craftsmanship and artistry; and the pursuit of authenticity. But especially for the Consortium’s 352 dairy farms and its farmers — the literal nine centuries-old art of cheesemaking tradition that spans several generations; all families that are prepared to pass down a noble livelihood to the next generation. It is pride, passion, and genuine love that is at the center of this story.