It matters little that this WTO-protected form of culinary art is now part of the international astronaut's diet. That distinction just recognizes the unique flavor, nutritive value and shelf-life properties of Parmigiano Reggiano. There are other foods with those qualities, but the truth worth of the gift from the banks of the Po, Enza and Reno rivers lies in the timeless spirit, dedication and endeavor with which the production method has been preserved. The tangible stimulation of the senses as one sees touches and eats a morsel, does no justice to the antique value of the process and its ability to join us with our ancestors. There is something in the soil of all Italy that Science may never identify, which spawns adventure, enterprise and commerce in the people of this land. Italians have long been pioneers of contact between far-flung communities, and the barter value of Parmigiano Reggiano was recognized soon after the first cheeses had set. Merchants from all over the world have always sought these great aromatic orbs and an awesome reputation permeates even the most distant places. You may live continents away from Reggio Emilia today, but who knows if your forefathers were Parmigiano aficionados and expect you to be one as well?
The farmland of original Parmigiano is of the most incredible serenity. Time stands still in green pastures, blue sky, and a rustic landscape and amidst hardy but very hospitable people. Being there conveys such a special feeling that no rational words can describe. The journey to a true appreciation of one of the oldest and most precious forms of cheese making should start with a food-lovers pilgrimage to the hallowed land around the banks of the Po, Enza and Reno rivers, between Florence and Venice.
The Provinces of Bologna, Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia have scores of dairies that are happy to share their arts, crafts, though not all secrets, most willingly with you. You can see for yourself that no color or preservative is added to this entirely organic and natural product and the stringent certification measures designed to protect the integrity of the name. 16 liters of milk from cattle fed on special fodder goes in to every kilo of this delicious cheese.
The slow and steady ripening process yields very high nutrition value that even the best meats cannot match in easily digestible form. Every bite is packed with vitamins and minerals, led by more than a gram of calcium per 100 grams of cheese. The production is deceptively simple as it is full of subtle tilts that easily escape attention. The essence is to heat milk shorn of its fat with coagulation agents collected with great care and in tightly controlled proportions and conditions.
A special staff is used to break the curdled and now solid mass of milk and after further cooking is set in moulds first of
wood and later of iron, before it is salted in a solution of brine. Maturity takes some 2 years and is completed outside the home dairy for quality control. The most notable feature of this seemingly basic manufacturing is the word-of-mouth and hands-on training that has continued from generation to generation, without a break. There are few if any parallels of such faithful replication over such a long period of time.
Parmigiano is versatile and can be used in a number of ways during every meal. One of the oldest ways recorded is to grate or thinly slice it, to add body to a soup or to highlight some plain pasta. Gourmets have found many modern uses and no one creativity need be burdened by how the cheese was used in the past. It is a natural and perfectly valid corollary of the transcontinental celebration of this food that it has blended seamlessly in to many different styles of cooking and some schools of fusion cuisine as well.