Cheesemakers have been making parmesan cheese – or Parmigiano-Reggiano as it’s known in Italy – for nearly 9 centuries. More about that in a bit. How is parmesan cheese made today? Nearly the same as it’s been made since day one.
Parmesan starts off as skimmed cow’s milk to which starter whey containing lactic acid bacteria is added. After heating the mixture, rennet is added to curdle the milk. The curd is broken up into rice-sized pieces and left to settle for about an hour. It’s then strained through muslin and placed into large cheese molds or wheels and immersed in a salt brine for about three weeks to give the parmesan its signature salty flavor. After brining, the wheels are stored in an aging room for 12 to 36 months or more, where they are cleaned and turned every 7 to 10 days. The aging process is very important and gives parmesan its complex flavor and pleasantly granular texture.
The resulting cheese is extremely full-flavored, with a pungent, salty profile, and very firm, both qualities which make it excellent for flavoring and grating. Here at Pastini we use parmesan in many of our cream sauces (Fusilli alla Roma, Alfredo, Mac ‘n Cheese), Caesar dressing, basil pesto, and as a garnish on salads, vegetables and most pasta dishes. It also gives its signature flavor to our three cheese ravioli. Now that I think of it, parmesan is in so many dishes we serve at Pastini!
The history of Parmigiano Reggiano dates back approximately 900 years, to the 1200’s. Today, as then, the ingredients were always the same: water, salt, milk and much patience during the aging process.
But the most important ingredients were the pastures of Emilia Romagna in North Central Italy. The Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries, which spread over the plains between Parma and Reggio Emilia, favored the development of granges or farms for raising cows suitable for milk production. The coming together of these granges with salt from Salsomaggiore, and the need to make a product that would keep for as long as possible, led to the creation of this very particular cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano. And today we are still enjoying this amazing and ancient food… isn’t it wonderful!