Monday, April 10, 2006

Parmigiano Reggiano – Reggiano-Parmesan Cheese

The August sun is hot in the hinterland Milanese. As the Lamborghini tractor cuts the topsoil eliminating the weed, the smell of rich farmland permeates the air. The summer season is near the end and the pear trees are weighted down by the weight of the maturing fruit.

Saturdays are fun, a break from the get up at 5 and take the bus to Milan to return home at 10:30 at night. At the break of dawn, after a hot cup of coffee and zabaglione, it’s off to the garden just outside of town. The “garden” is about 3 acres and has been in my wife’s family for about four hundred years. At one time it was much larger but inheritances had split the once formidable farm into numerous family gardens. Along the edge are Cherry, Pear, Fig, and Plum trees while in the center grows corn, carrots, potatoes, various salads, cauliflower, sprouts, greens, squash and pumpkins.

“David, let’s take a break, I want you to try something,” Giuseppe calls out.

In the small shack built in the center of the garden to house the tools, there is a small table and a couple of cots. After a morning in the sun, some dried meats and a flask of Barbera make up lunch before a nap during the hottest hours of the day. Giuseppe has picked about 20 pears that are neatly stacked on the table. He pulls a cloth towel from the knapsack we brought every weekend. He opens the towel to reveal a large triangle of Parmigiano and soft salami.

“I want you to try something before we have lunch,” he states as he breaks off several pieces of Parmigiano with a large knife. He hands me a pear and some cheese, pours a glass of Barbera and then holds the pear in both hands and with his thumbs splits the pear cleanly, vertically, right down the middle.

He then proceeds to bend the pear from the skin side and takes a bite from the exposed pulp and pops a piece of Parmigiano in his mouth.

“Never tell a farmer how good Parmigiano with pears is,” he says. This is an old saying in Milan indicating that if the farmers know just how good this is the pears will never arrive to Milan.
The taste of Parmigiano reflects the antique origins of this delicacy, distinct flavors with personality, a hint of acidity yet an encompassing smoothness, powerful but not overbearing, this cheese can double as a meal or as a compliment to other savory foods that have character. Mix and match with mature fruits, honey, tomato sauces, or simply with a hearty wine, Parmigiano is an important ingredient in any cooks arsenal.

Some things Parmigiano is not:

- produced outside of a very small region including Parma, Modena, Bologna and Reggio Emilia
- found in a green can produced by Kraft or other similar brands
- used on meek tasting dishes (unless you want them to taste like Parmigiano)
- produced by modern industrial method with additives or preservatives
- just grated or shredded

The current method of production was instituted in the 1200s and has been perfected but maintained over the last 8 centuries. Protected by different legislative articles over the years, Parmigiano is only produced in the “Reggiano” area using only milk from cows in the same area. It takes 16 liters of milk to make 1 kilo of Parmigiano. The “Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano” guarantees that the processes, the primary ingredients and the final product are the same.

The producers have recently organized a school with the purpose of creating master cheese makers specialized in the production of Parmigiano. It is possible to visit the cheese production facilities, the aging cellars, and the museum when in Parma. The train from Bologna to Milan passes through Parma, make a stop, visit the cellars, it is destination worth visiting.


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Blogger ChickyBabe said...

I recently tried aged Parmigiano Reggiano, and it was divine!

10:15 PM

Blogger a.c.t. said...

You should try a delicious salad I sometimes make with pears, parmesan shavings, rocket and balsamic vinegar. I never imagined parmesan and pears would go so well together until I tried it.

5:30 AM

Blogger o said...

mescalun salad mix, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, toasted sliced almonds, balsamic vinegar or lemon juice a little salt and freshly ground black pepper and olive oil

7:18 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Chickybabe - Fresh is also great. The flavors are accentuated.

ACT - please publish the recipe

Sally - Sounds really good. I have made this before but without the toasted almonds. It should be an interesting combination.

8:28 PM

Blogger a.c.t. said...

It's very simple - you just cut the pears into slices, parmesan shavings on top, some rocket and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and a tiny bit of olive oil to keep it moist.

12:40 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Thanks. I will try this soon!

11:43 AM


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