Parmigiano-Reggiano D.O.P. factory, Modena, Italia.


I will never be able to buy parmesan cheese again, without scoffing that it is probably only table cheese quality.  I’ll forever be scouring the rind imprint for the number, 1384 – the code for the factory we spent a few hours in, observing the manual process of only 6 workers producing 64 wheels of parmigiano-reggiano DOP a morning.  The process was simple: milk, rennet, and yesterday’s whey are heated 5 min then the mixture left to gelatinise 8 min, before the coagulate cheese curds are broken up by a giant ball whisk, “cooked” by Guiseppe, then left to sediment at the bottom of a large steel and copper urn. The resultant blob is cut into two, each moiety then pressed into the exact standard size and shape wheel.  Templates pressed into the hardening rind code date of manufacture, batch number, factory ID and a blank oval awaits certification as “DOP” a year later when ready to be left to age.



New things I now know:
  1. Cheese curds are squeaky and rubbery and fun to fondle.
  2. Ricotta is not a cheese.  It’s a by-product from making cheese, and needs cream. Selling ricotta is where the factory makes its money, not the named product.
  3. The second-class parmigiano-reggiano DOP cheese has the rind scored; rejected table quality cheese has the rind completely torn away.  It still tastes delicious.
  4. Veterinarian antibiotic use is apparently to blame for the gaseous imperfections in the cheese, tested for by percussion by the cheese inspectors, in an age-old tradition that predates the discovery of antibiotics.  Lucky they figured out how to evaluate a complication of a yet to be discovered life-saving medication hundreds of years beforehand.
  5. European food tours are bittersweet experiences for an Australian traveller; you almost can’t buy anything to take home because of our (valid and very important) customs laws.



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