Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Parmigiano Reggiano.

Hey lovers.

On March 4th, we went on a cheese (Parma), prosciutto (Parma), and balsamic vinegar (Modena) tour via FUA.

This was literally a magical morning. Part of my incredulity may be attributed to the fact that I was up at 4am that morning and on the bus by 5:30am, but still, it was astonishing.

This is a photo of a faint outline of mountains with snow, and the lone cars that were on the road.

There was snow everywhere. Elise and I were the only ones (it seemed) still awake an hour into the bus ride, and it took us almost that long to realize that yes, the ground was covered in snow. We were driving north into the mountains where it looked like it had been snowing for weeks, but only just enough to dust back on a layer of snow that may have evaporated during the day. The sky had an astounding blue glow that was curiously reflected by the snow. Every half-kilometer/kilometer or so, we passed into a very short dark tunnel and would emerge quickly again within seconds. In my incredulous (and relatively tired) state, it took me awhile to realize we were really driving right through mountainsides. It sounds so simple and uninteresting, but this was a new experience for me. I'm never around mountains, and in the snow, no less.

As tired as I was, I couldn't sleep because there was all this magic around me. Mother nature, you've pleased me. I will never forget the sights and feelings that I had that morning.

We arrived at Parmigiano-Reggiano sometime between 8am and 9am. I'm not really sure- I lost track of time the whole day. I'm gonna try to recount the whole process; don't shoot me if I'm a bit off.

Trend spotting? Plastic shoes, dresses, and hats.

Every morning they start the process in this room.

The vats (which actually extend into the floors in a funnel shape) are filled with partially skimmed milk, straight from very specific cows. The farms are picked with the cows that have been given a very specific diet, all of which are on watch. Meaning, if at the end of the cheese's aging process the cheese is found to be bad, the farm is dropped as a supplier.

Whey is mixed in and the vats are left to curdle.

Then after a few hours, a big strong Italian sailor man comes along and uses his giant-sized whisk to break up the curdle. And yes, it is always a big strong, oddly attractive Italian sailor man who comes along with a giant-sized whisk.

Some cloths are slipped in to scoop up the curdles into two bundles.

(The only black guy I've seen in Italy who wasn't trying to sell me fake Louis Vitton bags or tripods)

Then the funnels are drained.

The bundles are brought into another room where they are stuffed into moulds lined with a plastic strip that will leave indentations in the cheese as it hardens.

They are set out to fit to the moulds and stamped (here is where I couldn't hear the guide, so I lost a lot of info between now and later). They sit there for some time (uhhh... days, weeks, I dunno).

They sit in salt baths for some time (uhhh...)

D.O.P. has a VERY special background. Now for me, this was a kickass thing to learn about. Rather than summarize in words that could be wrong...

"D.O.P – Denominazione di Origine Protetta

Literally translated “Protected Designation of Origin”, this label applies to various cheeses, meats, breads and pastas from throughout the various regions of Italy.

Examples of such products are Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma...

...Italian gourmet food products are special. The Italian national government recognizes this, and the long history of traditional Italian foods in our collective bloodlines, so, they’ve taken some steps to ensure that all traditional products are held to a strict standard for quality, excellence and originality.

This means that only real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is labeled and sold as such, and that no “imposter” cheeses can be labeled Parmigiano without the ire of the Italian and European governments. This form of branding actually helps promote the product worldwide and ensures that each wheel of Parmigiano is as good and wholesome as the rest."

Danke, Italian Food Lovers.

The aging room.

Fresh baby-cheese.

Aged 2 years.

After 3 years, the cheese is fed to tired and hungry tourists.

Or sold to other places. It was delicious. I won't forget that taste. Salt. I would have loved it if it were on pasta- that would have been the BEST.


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