It’s raining! Booo! If only I could be back in Italy, where I spent my summer holidays this year. What a great country to be in: whether you decide to turn left or right, it doesn’t matter, everywhere you go there is beautiful landscapes, cities and most importantly GREAT food! Traveling in the Emilia-Romagna region kinda brings some obligations for a food lover like me (not that I mind): When in Bologna, eat bolognese sauce, when in Parma, eat Parma ham and Parmesan cheese. But me and my love did not just eat these wonderful Italian products, we also had an introduction into the Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese making.
Now I have to get really honest with you: I have to admit that I came to realize I knew very little of Parmesan cheeses. I googled a bit to see if I could find a cheese maker that would offer guided tours, which is when I stumbled upon the website of Lateria Sociale Coop. Caseificio San Pier Damiani. Normally you would book a private guide to go there but in an attempt to save a few bucks I decided to send them an email to see if we could join the tour without having to book a day package with a guide. I quickly received an email back that that was not a problem. That one morning we set our navigation to the address on the website. Now comes the crux. I totally expected to find at a big cheese factory with lines of tourists waiting for the tour in their language to start… Nope! I found out that the real Parmigiano Reggiano is a hand made product. So the big factory I expected was in fact a small, family owned, dairy farm.
What is Parmigiano Reggiano
So let’s talk about that a bit more, because I think a lot of you guys don’t know the difference between the one or the other Parmesan cheese.
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is made in a specific are that includes the Italian provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna to the west of the Reno river and Mantua to the east of the Po river. ‘Parmesan’ is a protected name, so cheeses can only be named ‘Parmesan cheeses’ if the milk and cows are from this area. What is special about Parmigiano Reggiano is that it is a hand made product.
Parmigiano Reggiano is made of unpasteurized cow’s milk produced only in the area of origin. The milk that comes in every morning is from te surrounding dairy farms, and the cows are milked in the morning since the milk is not chilled or does not undergo some sterilization process it needs to reach the cheese farm rather quickly. The milk is used to produce cheese straight away. This is also why any tour at the Lateria San Pier Damiani starts at 9 in the morning; it is only then you can see the cheese maker at work.
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is 100% natural and does not contain additives, preservatives and laboratory selected bacteria in the production process. It is therefore an artisan product made in traditional copper vats. Because of the specific origin of the milk and cows, and it’s production process the Parmigiano Reggiano keeps his specific identity.
So remember kids: Parmigiano Reggiano = a hand made product, the rest is either a factory made product and/or has additives added to the cheese.
Dairy San Pier Damiani
In 1965, on the day dedicated to St. Peter Damian, 21 February, the social dairy of San Pier Damiani was founded. At the time there were over 20 producers in the area between San Prospero, Beneceto, Coloreto and San Donato. Our guide told us that nowadays it is very hard to make ends meet as a Parmesan cheese maker. It is hard work, and the work continues day in and day out: processing the milk, turning the cheese wheels in their salt baths, cleaning the wheels and putting them in storage. There no way a cheese maker could take a 2-week holiday without having someone managing the cheeses, which need care every single day depending on the production stage they are in. A very unattractive job for most youngsters. Therefore today there are only four producers of Parmigiano Reggiano left, some are the children of the founders.
From this you could draw the conclusion that there is very little Parmigiano Reggiano today compared to 40 years ago. However, the modern machines allow to maintain a production capacity almost equal to the original. Every day in the dairy will produce on average 10 cheese wheels.
Following the rules of the craft tradition, the cheese makers produce a completely natural, and unique cheese, which because of the slow maturing process maintains its soft and aromatic taste. Even the 30 months old cheese melts nicely in the mouth.