Italian cuisine comes from the heart. It's simple dishes lovingly made, like pickled veggies antipasti, Caprese salad, roasted meats, and cheese. A whole lot of cheese. Now there are a lot of great Italian cheeses - think Asiago, fontina, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and provolone - but the king of them all is Parmigiano Reggiano. That's Parmesan to us anglophones.
Parmigiano Reggiano is the best Italian cheese for many reasons, including its long aging time (we're talking years), its strict production process (read more below) and of course its flavour (deeply savoury and nutty). It has a hard, slightly grainy texture that breaks off into perfect little cheese nuggets to just pop in your mouth. You can also use the rind to add flavour to sauces, soups and stews. But here's the not-so-secret way every Italian chef uses Parmigiano Reggiano: sprinkle that stuff on everything! Whether you shave thin ribbons on top of risotto, microplane fluffy cheese "snow" onto salads or grate it into a bowl of hot pasta, Parmigiano Reggiano will give your dish a salty kick plus so much more. Heck we love it so much that we actually toss our pasta inside a wheel of Parm whenever we get the chance!
As with any good thing, Parmigiano Reggiano is often duplicated. So to ensure quality we source ours direct from the Poggioli cheese plant in Modena, Italy where the team takes great care to ensure each wheel achieves a complex, tangy taste. We were first introduced to the Ferrarini family and Poggioli plant through the Simonini family, co-owners of Soleterra d'Italia. Our team even got to visit the farm and cheese plant on an Italian trip a few years ago! Read on for details about how Italy's favourite cheese is made.
Just south of Modena, tucked away in the Castelnuova Rangone countryside is Casa Ferrarini. First owned by Giovanni Ferrarini, the farm has raised Italian Friesian cows for 65 years. Now run by Giovanni's son and two daughters, Casa Ferrarini provides top quality milk for the region's most famous cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano.
Because Parmigiano Reggiano is a Protected Designation of Origin cheese, everything is tightly controlled. The cheese can only be made in certain regions of Italy and the cow's feed must be fresh and locally grown. Each batch is made from an evening and a morning milking; milk from the evening milking is separated overnight and skimmed, then added to the whole milk from the morning milking, which is delivered still warm to the production room. The milk is processed by hand in large double boilers using a gigantic whisk-like instrument called a spino. The cheesemakers know simply by feel when the cheese is ready.
Then comes the task of cutting each massive fresh cheese in half - it's a two-man job. The cheeseclocth-clad balls are then put in plastic moulds to help shape the wheels and stamp the words Parmigiano Reggiano into their signature rinds. Once the wheels start to take shape they are moved into steel moulds and given a saltwater bath for a few weeks. Then it's on to a hot room for drying before finally making it to the warehouse for aging. Parmigiano Reggiano is aged a minimum of 24 months, making it one of the oldest and arguably tastiest cheeses around.