We left this morning (Monday 19), a day earlier to spend an extra day in Bologna. On the way out of the city I had arranged a tour of a cheese factory where Parmigiano is made. It was an amazing experience. Minne was able to take some great films of the process as well.
The process of making Parmigiano cheese is quite amazing. You see these copper vats that they churn milk. The process goes quite quick as it goes from ivory white to a creamy yellow. Then it begins too look like batter as the milk congeals into curds.
They add rennet to the milk. The story of how it was made (with the aid of cow’s stomachs in a centralized factory that makes it for the entire region) so grossed out Esther that she coudn’t eat the cheese at the tasting afterwards.
To look at the vats it is difficult to see how the get two 50 pound wheels out of the vat until you notice how deep the vats go and how the curds collect at the bottom.
The check the consistency of the whey with their hands. And when the cheese is ready, they prepare very sturdy nets to haul up the whey into a huge ball. (movie: IMG_9996)As you see in the movie attached, this is pretty heavy work. Then the whey is cut into 2 balls and put into a form. (movies: caseficio2 casefiecio IMG_0001)
They cut the curds into two balls of cheese.
Then with the leftover liquid in the vats, they make Ricotta cheese, which is so incredibly sweet and tasty unlike any store bought ricotta.
Then the cheese are molded and kept for 1 day in their molds. Then after that they spend a month in a salt bath. The cheeses rise in the salt bath so it is necessary to turn them 2 a day.
After the cheese is in the brine, the salt solution only permeates 2-3 centimeters, it is in the drying process that the salt permeates the entire cheese. And here is the drying or curing room.
The cheese is stamped with the factory ID, “2189” but never the name of the factory name. In the picture below, you will notice the is a circle in the middle of the cheese. Once the cheese reaches 1 year in maturity it can be stamped in that circle with the Parmigiana Reggiano seal and from then on can be sold as Parmigiana. If you see the movies you will see a machine that automatically goes up and down the aisles brushing the cheese rounds. This is to remoe any moisture or mold that may have been starting to form.
After the tour we had a cheese tasting of their three normal releases: 12 month, 24 month and 36 months. The 12 month is for shaving over a salad or pasta, not grating. It will still have a pronounced buttery flavor. The 36 month is for grating and serving as a intense hard cheese with pronounced nutty flavors. The 24 month, which is what we normally see in the stores is the hybrid: can be grated or shredded has a mild flavor but beginning to develop interesting flavors on its own.
They served the parmesan cheese with a free glass of sparkling wine, in order to ward you off from accidentally buying it in their store. They also served the cheese with a pear balsamic vinegar that was so delicious with the 36 month cheese that we bought a bottle to take home.