Written by Maria Pistocchi — Sunday, January 20th, 2013
If you don't know the flavour of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese you are loosing a bit of Paradise; Parmigiano Reggiano has that extra oomph that gives fuel not only to your spaghetti or your ravioli in broth, but also to your aperitif or your snack.
Parmigiano is an aged cheese: do you know that it is at least 800 years old? The land of Parmigiano's birth is really debatable because the city of Lodi demands paternity as well as the city of Parma, but we certainly know that in 1350 it was known and eaten. In fact we find a fun image of Parmigiano cheese in the Decameron, written by Giovanni Boccaccio in 1351.
Giovanni mentions that cheese in one of Decameron novel when he describes the Paese del Bengodi, the imaginary country of the magic stone called Elitropia that makes you invisible. He writes:
Et eravi una montagna tutta di formaggio Parmigiano grattugiato, sopra la quale stavan genti, che niuna altra cosa facevan, che fare maccheroni e ravioli e cuocerli in brodo di capponi.
There was a whole mountain of grated Parmesan cheese, upon this mountain there were people just making maccheroni and ravioli and cooking them in a capon broth.
After 650 years from that picture, after countless forms of cheese produced (and eaten as well), returning to the present day, we know that in 1995 Parmigiano Reggiano achieved its goal: it obtained the D.O.P. brand.
D.O.P. means brand of certified origin and it is a very important certification. In fact it gives to Italy, in a specific territorial zone with specific production rules, the opportunity to demonstrate its ability to produce cheese of superior quality. DOP's certification is important because on one hand it protects value to the producers and on the other hand it is a guarantee of the quality to the consumers.
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is not alone because it has a DOP certificated cousin whose name is Grana Padano cheese. Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano cheeses are very similar because their production process is almost the same. Their differences are in aging and in the cows' feed.
About the cows' feed to produce milk for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, cows eat only dry feed, green fodder and hay meadow without any preservative: preservatives are forbidden in Parmigiano Reggiano cheese! So what do cows eat to produce milk for Grana Padano? They eat also grass that is collected and stored in silos. In this case, as the use of grass stored in silos involves higher risks of bacterial cultures formation during the long period of maturation, the consortium of Grana Padano allows preservatives. They use a preservative known as lysozyme, that is an antibacterial harmless to health, which prevents the development of harmful microorganisms.
The aging time is of 15 months for Grana Padano, and 18-24 and up to 36 months for the Parmigiano Reggiano. The longer maturation allows Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to develop superior organoleptic characteristics.
Where those delicacies are produced? If you go to Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantova, in the territories that appear between Reno river and Po river you can find cows that eat only forage produced in that area and give the right milk to Parmigiano Reggiano producers. On the other hand Grana Padano is produced in some provinces of Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Trentino.
There are several ways to eat Parmigiano Reggiano as well as Grana Padano. I'm going to show you some:
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