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|Country of origin||Italy|
|Region, town||Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna (west of the Reno) and Mantua (south of the Po)|
|Source of milk||Cows|
|Aging time||Minimum: 12 months
Vecchio: 18–24 months
Stravecchio: 24–36 months
|Certification||Italy: DOP 1955
EU: PDO 1992
It is named after the producing areas, which comprise the Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna (only the area to the left of the river Reno), Modena, (all in Emilia-Romagna), and Mantova (in Lombardia, but only the area to the south of river Po), Italy. Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labelled "Parmigiano-Reggiano", and European law classifies the name, as well as the translation "Parmesan", as a protected designation of origin. Parmigiano is the Italian adjective for Parma and Reggiano that for Reggio Emilia. In the US the name Parmesan is also used for cheeses which imitate Parmigiano-Reggiano, along with phrases such as "Italian hard cheese".
Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from raw cow's milk. The whole milk of the morning milking is mixed with the naturally skimmed milk (which is made by holding milk 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 (containing a mixture of certain thermophilic lactic acid bacteria) 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.
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 cm (7.1–9.4 in) high, 40–45 cm (16–18 in) in diameter, and weighs 38 kg (84 lb).
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.
According to legend, Parmigiano-Reggiano was created in the course of the Middle Ages in Bibbiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia. Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th and 14th centuries, Parmigiano was already very similar to that produced today, which suggests its origins can be traced to far earlier.
It was praised as early as 1348 in the writings of Boccaccio; in the Decameron, he invents ‘a mountain, all of grated Parmesan cheese’, on which ‘dwell folk that do nought else but make macaroni and ravioli, and boil them in capon's broth, and then throw them down to be scrambled for; and hard by flows a rivulet of Vernaccia, the best that ever was drunk, and never a drop of water therein.’
In the memoirs of Giacomo Casanova, he remarked that the name "Parmesan" was a misnomer common throughout an "ungrateful" Europe in his time (mid-18th century), as the cheese was produced in the town of Lodi, Lombardy, not Parma. Though Casanova knew his table and claimed in his memoir to have been compiling a (never completed) dictionary of cheeses, his comment has been taken to refer mistakenly to a grana cheese very similar to "Parmigiano", the Grana Padano, which is produced in the Lodi area.
Aroma and chemical components
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||392 kcal (1,640 kJ)|
|- Sugars||0.8 g|
|- Dietary fiber||0.0 g|
|- saturated||16.41 g|
|- monounsaturated||7.52 g|
|- polyunsaturated||0.57 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||207 μg (26%)|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.04 mg (3%)|
|Riboflavin (vit. B2)||0.33 mg (28%)|
|Niacin (vit. B3)||0.27 mg (2%)|
|Vitamin B6||0.09 mg (7%)|
|Folate (vit. B9)||7 μg (2%)|
|Vitamin B12||1.2 μg (50%)|
|Vitamin C||0.0 mg (0%)|
|Vitamin D||19 IU (3%)|
|Vitamin E||0.22 mg (1%)|
|Vitamin K||1.7 μg (2%)|
|Calcium||1184 mg (118%)|
|Iron||0.82 mg (6%)|
|Magnesium||44 mg (12%)|
|Phosphorus||694 mg (99%)|
|Potassium||92 mg (2%)|
|Sodium||1602 mg (107%)|
|Zinc||2.75 mg (29%)|
|Percentages are roughly approximated
using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Parmigiano is also particularly high in glutamate, containing as much as 1.2 g of glutamate per 100 g of cheese, making it the naturally produced food with the second highest level of glutamate, after Roquefort cheese. The high concentration of glutamate explains the strong umami taste of Parmigiano.
Use of the name
The name is trademarked and, in Italy, legal exclusive control is exercised over its production and sale by the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Consorzio, which was created by a governmental decree. Each wheel must meet strict criteria early in the aging process, when the cheese is still soft and creamy, to merit the official seal and be placed in storage for aging. Because it is widely imitated, Parmigiano-Reggiano has become an increasingly regulated product, and in 1955 it became what is known as a certified name (which is not the same as a brand name). In 2008 an EU court determined that the name "Parmesan" in Europe only refers to Parmigiano-Reggiano and cannot be used for imitation Parmesan. Thus in the European Union, "Parmigiano-Reggiano" is a protected designation of origin (PDO); legally, the name refers exclusively to the Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO cheese manufactured in a limited area in northern Italy. Special seals identify the product as authentic, with the identification number of the dairy, the production month and year, a code identifying the individual wheel and stamps regarding the length of aging.
Outside Europe, commercially produced imitation cheeses may be legally sold under the generic name Parmesan. When sold in Europe, such cheeses are obliged to be sold under other names, such as Kraft's "pamesello italiano".
The Grana Padano is an Italian cheese quite similar to the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Differences are:
- It is produced mainly in Lombardy, the name Padano derives from the Pianura Padana
- Cows can also be fed silage, not grass and hay only
- The milk contains slightly less fat
- Milk of several days can be used
- No organic certifications
- No controlled proceedings over cow breeds
- No cow feed control
- It is aged for up to 20 months
- "Standard di Produzione". Disciplinare del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano D.O.P. (fourth paragraph). Famiglia Gastaldello, 2005-2008.
- Zeldes, Leah A. (2010-10-06). "Eat this! Parmigiano-Reggiano, the king of cheeses". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved 2010-11-17.
- Giovanni Boccaccio, Decamerone VIII 3. The translation quoted here is that by J.M. Rigg.
- See Pepys’s diary entry for 4 September, 1666
- Casanova, Histoire de ma vie 8:ix.
- Qian, Michael; Reineccius, Gary. "Potent Aroma Compounds in Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Studied Using a Dynamic Headspace (purge-trap) Method". Flavour and Fragrance Journal, Volume 18 Issue 3, 7 April 2003 (pp. 252–259).
- "I Know What I Like: Understanding Odor Preferences". The Fragrance Foundation, 2008.
- Marsha A. Echols Geographical Indications for Food Products - 2008 Page 190-"A defence was that the name 'Parmesan' has become generic and so cannot be a protected designation of origin. The Court disagreed. It commented that 'in the present case it is far from clear that the designation parmesan has become ..."
- Bernard O'Connor -The Law of Geographical Indications - Page 136 2004 -"... name “Parmesan” may not become generic. See on http://europe/eu/int, “Case Law”. 44 Where a registered name contains within it the name of an agricultural product or foodstuff that is considered generic, the use of that generic name on ...
- The Great Food Robbery: How Corporations Control Food 2012 "In 2008, however, the EU ruled that the same applied to all cheese produced under the name “Parmesan”, a generic term widely usedfor cheeses produced around the world. The EU issued a similar rulingfor Feta, claiming that it could be ...
- Cox, James. "What's In a Name?" USA Today, 9 September 2003.
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