Parmigiano-Reggiano: From Cow to Table

Parmigiano Reggiano

Ask an Italian where his second favourite place to eat would be, and he’ll tell you, “In Italy, it’s Emilia-Romagna.” First, of course, would be at his mama’s house. So, it was decided. I went to Emilia-Romagna to eat. In Parma, I’ve watched the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from cow to table, the preparing of the morning milk and the preparing of the evening milk.

I had always thought that a cheese is a cheese is a cheese. Not in Parma. Here, the cows do not graze. The diminishing farmland is too precious. The farmers cut the fragrant alfalfa, wildflowers, and sweet meadow grasses, and hand deliver this bounty to the Reggian milk cows, a superior breed housed in country club style barns.

Let’s hear it for the cows! They give the milk that makes the cheese that has become a symbol of the culture and civilization of this region. In this age of information it is reassuring to see that in a small, simply equipped factory, artisan cheese makers are making Parmigiano-Reggiano using centuries-old methods. Nothing is wasted. Even the curds and whey are consigned to the producers of the famed San Danielli ham, so they can feed them to their pigs.

The golden wheels, stamped, branded and coded, are stacked on wooden shelves in airy warehouses–cathedrals of cheese. As the seasons change there is a natural warming and cooling, and the cheese ripens.

The Magnani family has been making Parmigiano in Reggio Emelia since 1890. At the packing plant, workers in white uniforms and hairnets feed the huge golden wheels into the steel jaws of cutting and packing machines. Soon these wedges will go around the world to the tables of cheese lovers, to enjoy with balsamic and olive slicked salad greens, or melt in loving curls over steaming pasta, or blend richly into risotto.

From Posta Italbar in Toronto’s south, to Folco’s Ristorante in Toronto’s north, we love when restaurants elevate our dining experience by preparing pasta, tossed or flambeed in a golden wheel of cheese.

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