Cheese of the Week – Parmesan

September 27, 2012 at 9:34 AM | Posted in cheese, cooking, Food | 2 Comments
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Parmesan cheese is the name of a few kinds of Italian extra-hard cheeses. It is usually the cheese to go with Spaghetti and other typical

Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)

Italian pasta, but it also has many other uses. Parmesan is a part of Italian national cuisine and is usually grated.
Usually, Parmesan cheese is either Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese. Both cheeses are AOC. This means that the way they are made, and the region they come from are strictly regulated.
Only these brands (Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano) are protected. In many parts of the world, cheese is sold as Parmesan cheese that has nothing to do with the true (Italian) Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano. The biggest producers of such cheeses are the United States and Argentina.
The original Parmesan cheese is one of the most expensive cheeses in the world.

 
Parmigiano-Reggiano

Country of origin Italy
Region, town Provinces of Parma,
Reggio Emilia, Modena,
Bologna (west of the Reno),
Mantua (south of the Po River)
Source of milk Cows
Pasteurised No
Texture Hard
Aging time Minimum: 12 months
Vecchio: 18–24 months
Stravecchio: 24–36 months
Certification Italy: DOP 1955
EU: PDO 1992

Parmigiano-Reggiano also known in English as Parmesan is a hard, granular cheese, cooked but not pressed, 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 labelled “Parmigiano-Reggiano”, while European law classifies the name as a protected designation of origin.
Parmigiano is the Italian adjective for Parma. Reggiano is the Italian adjective for Reggio Emilia. Parmesan is the French name for it and also serves as the informal term for the cheese in the English language. The name Parmesan is also used for cheeses which imitate Parmigiano-Reggiano, with phrases such as “Italian hard cheese” adopted to skirt legal constraints. The closest legitimate Italian cheese to Parmigiano-Reggiano is Grana Padano.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from raw cow’s milk. The whole milk of the morning milking is mixed with the naturally skimmed milk (it

Parmigiano-Reggiano factory

is left in large shallow tanks to allow the cream to separate) of the previous evening’s milking, resulting in a part skim mixture. The milk is pumped into copper-lined vats (copper heats and cools quickly). Starter whey is added, and the temperature is raised to 33–35 °C (91–95 °F). Calf rennet is added, and the mixture is left to curdle for 10–12 minutes. The curd is then broken up mechanically into small pieces (around the size of rice grains). The temperature is then raised to 55 °C (131 °F) with careful control by the cheese-maker. The curd is left to settle for 45–60 minutes. The compacted curd is collected in a piece of muslin before being divided in two and placed in molds. There is 1100 L (291 US gallons or 250 imperial gallons) of milk per vat, producing two cheeses each. The curd making up each wheel at this point weighs around 45 kg (100 lb). The remaining whey in the vat was traditionally used to feed the pigs from which “Prosciutto di Parma” (cured Parma ham) was produced. The barns for these animals were usually just a few yards away from the cheese production rooms.
The cheese is put into a stainless steel, round form that is pulled tight with a spring-powered buckle so the cheese retains its wheel shape. After a day or two, the buckle is released and a plastic belt imprinted numerous times with the Parmigiano-Reggiano name, the plant’s number, and month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is buckled tight again. The imprints take hold on the rind of the cheese in about a day and the wheel is then put into a brine bath to absorb salt for 20–25 days. After brining, the wheels are then transferred to the aging rooms in the plant for 12 months. Each cheese is placed on wooden shelves that can be 24 cheeses high by 90 cheeses long or about 4,000 total wheels per aisle. Each cheese and the shelf underneath it is then cleaned manually or robotically every seven days. The cheese is also turned at this time.

At 12 months, the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano inspects each and every cheese. The cheese is tested by a master grader whose only instruments are a hammer and his ear. By tapping the wheel at various points, he can identify undesirable cracks and voids within the wheel. Those cheeses that pass the test are then heat branded on the rind with the Consorzio’s logo. Those that do not pass the test used to have their rinds marked with lines or crosses all the way around to inform consumers that they are not getting top-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano; more recent practices simply have these lesser rinds stripped of all markings.
Traditionally, cows have to be fed only on grass or hay, producing grass fed milk. Only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter, together with calf rennet.
The only additive allowed is salt, which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated to near total salinity with Mediterranean sea salt. The product is aged an average of two years. The cheese is produced daily, and it can show a natural variability. True Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese has a sharp, complex fruity/nutty taste with a strong savory flavor and a slightly gritty texture. Inferior versions can impart a bitter taste.
The average Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel is about 18–24 centimeters (7.1–9.4 in) high, 40–45 centimeters (16–18 in) in diameter, and weighs 38 kilograms (84 lb).

Parmigiano-Reggiano is commonly grated over pasta dishes, stirred into soups and risottos, and eaten on its own. It is often shaved or grated over other dishes.
Slivers and chunks of the hardest parts of the crust are sometimes simmered in soup. They can also be just roasted and eaten as a snack.
The hollowed-out crust of a whole wheel of Parmigiano can be used as a serving pot for large groups.

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