Italian Parmesan cheese, also known as Parmigiano-Reggiano, is a beloved cheese that hails from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. With its distinctive nutty and savory flavor, Parmesan has become a staple in Italian cuisine and is now enjoyed worldwide. In this article, we will delve into the history, production process, and culinary uses of this iconic cheese.
The History of Italian Parmesan Cheese
Parmigiano-Reggiano has a rich history that dates back over 700 years. It was first produced by Benedictine monks in the region around Parma and Reggio Emilia in the Middle Ages. These skilled craftsmen developed a unique method to produce a hard cheese with a long shelf life, making it ideal for trade and storage.
The production techniques used for Parmesan have been carefully preserved throughout the centuries. Today, the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano ensures that only cheeses made according to traditional methods can bear the prestigious Parmigiano-Reggiano name.
The Production Process
Parmesan is made from raw cow’s milk sourced from cows fed on local grasses and hay. The milk undergoes strict quality controls to ensure its purity and freshness.
The production process begins by heating the milk in large copper vats. Whey starter culture and calf rennet are added to initiate coagulation. The curds are then cut into small granules using traditional tools called spino and fuso.
After draining, the curds are molded into large wheels using cheesecloths. These wheels are then immersed in brine for several weeks to develop their distinct flavor profile.
The next step involves aging the cheese for a minimum of 12 months. During this time, each wheel is carefully turned and brushed to develop its characteristic hard rind and unique flavor. The Consorzio experts inspect each wheel individually to ensure its quality and authenticity.
Culinary Uses of Parmesan
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a versatile cheese that adds depth and flavor to a wide range of dishes. Its granular texture and intense umami taste make it perfect for grating over pasta, risottos, and soups.
The cheese can also be enjoyed in chunks or shaved as a table cheese, accompanied by fruits, nuts, or honey. Its robust flavor pairs well with red wines like Chianti or Barolo.
Another popular use for Parmesan is in traditional Italian sauces such as Bolognese and Carbonara. Its rich taste melts beautifully into the sauce, adding complexity to the dish.
Tips for Buying and Storing Parmesan
- Look for the rind: When buying Parmesan, opt for pieces with the rind intact. The rind protects the cheese from drying out and enhances its flavor.
- Choose aged Parmesan: The longer the aging process, the more intense and complex the flavor becomes.
Look for cheeses labeled “vecchio” (aged at least 18 months) or “stravecchio” (aged at least 36 months) for a truly exceptional experience.
- Store it properly: To keep your Parmesan fresh, wrap it tightly in wax paper or plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator. Grate or slice off only what you need to maintain its freshness.
In conclusion, Italian Parmesan cheese is a true gastronomic delight with a long-standing tradition rooted in Italy’s culinary heritage. Its unmistakable taste, careful production process, and versatility in cooking make it an essential ingredient that elevates any dish to new heights. So, go ahead and embrace the flavors of Parmigiano-Reggiano in your cooking adventures!