From the dairy to the table

To make PDO Parmigiano Reggiano… you need time

Now the “milk voyage” is over. Parmigiano Reggiano-to be wheels, still white, sweet and soft, wrapped in a cloth like a newborn baby, start immediately another one, as much as important. It won’t be a space voyage from valley to valley, as there are a few metres involved from the dairy to the adjacent storeroom.
It will be a time voyage. At present, maturation begins!

First the cradle, then bath time

At the beginning, the newborn cheeses are placed in a bit uncomfortable “cradle”, or rather a tight cheese mould that will give them the typical Parmigiano Reggiano shape. On each wheel is applied a casein plate (casein is a protein in milk) with all data for identification, just like a baby bracelet. This allows us to follow every stage up to our table: where it comes from, when it has been made, who made it , etc.
Then the wheels will have a “bath”, that is they will be immersed in a water and salt - saturated solution. Thanks to this treatment, several days long, salt slowly and evenly penetrates into the cheese. This enables it to gain flavor and to be ready for maturation. As is well known, salt is one of the most ancient natural preservative we use. The whole preliminary stage lasts 27 days.
FormeThe brine done, before maturation may start the wheels are left dripping a whole day, as they must be completely dry on the wooden boards where they will stay till the selling.

(Almost) nothing of the cheese is waste

Now the wheels are placed in the storeroom. But waiting and crossing your fingers is not enough! Cheese must be taken care of and carefully attended to: every week the single wheel must be turned over.
Six months later there’s the first selection: the “baby” is examined to figure out how he is doing – thanks to the experience of several years – and what he will become as an adult. Just like children, not all cheeses are the same; some have flaws, but almost each of them has a chance.
Flaws are inevitable, since it’s a handmade product, a genuine, alive product that changes in time and suffers from the smallest variation in milk, climate, etc. The cheesemakers’ skill consists in limiting them as much as possible and in finding them the sooner the better.
Most flaws won’t jeopardize the product taste, nevertheless these wheels won’t be PDO and won’t undergo the long maturation for which Parmigiano Reggiano is well- known. Having said that, eaten at minimum maturing time and at medium maturing time, they are as good as their best “sisters”


Air and dampness: the cheese gets dressed and undressed

Although nowadays air conditioner helps who is responsible for the maturation, if they really want a good cheese it’s still very important making the most of the outside air and reducing heat and dampness. All in all, not  to be at the climate mercy.
Both in summer and winter they wait for clear and dry days (which are unusual in the Padan Plain/ Po Valley while in the mountains happen more often) to open the windows and to reduce the storeroom dampness.
In this way Parmigiano Reggiano “sweats”, that is sends water out getting “undressed” in the process, i.e. it leaks the rind mould patina -called “investiture”- that comes off herself when dampness changes

“Knock, knock…": the professional cheese testers are working

On the 13th month after the first selection, a task appointed to Tullio and Lorenzo Ferrari, the professional testers will come. They will decide which wheel should be decorated with the Consortium mark, and therefore should deserve the desired Parmigiano Reggiano certificate.
For the examination, they will need a hammer, just like a doctor who wants to check reflex actions; this works as a sonar that sounds the wheel. Depending on the sound, qualities and flaws are revealed. While they are describing each wheel, the experts speak a really technical language: they may define it swollen, deflated, loose, with eyes or “immagonata” (which means a little too damp inside).
Sometimes they  will do a sort of a “log” right in the centre with a screw needle to figure out whether maturation is going on evenly or not. Then they will choose a wheel as a model, open it on a wooden stool and they will examine it carefully to try and decide its real quality, thanks to their ears, nose, eyes and taste.
Among the wheels with the Consortium mark, therefore PDO Parmigiano Reggiano in all respects, the skilled cheese testers will select those fit for a long maturation. Thus they will become grandmothers and great-grandmothers. It’s a tricky choice with some risks implied, as always happens.


"Highlander” Parmigiano: it can stand up for seven years

Just like wine, cheese has “vintages” that can do wonders. For example, you can try to make a PDO, 84- year- old Parmigiano Reggiano: that’s seven years old. A sort of “highlander” cheese which comes out ok only with an extra high- quality basis.
After all, Parmigiano Reggiano was made with the special purpose to last as much as possible. It was born thanks to Medieval Benedictine monks’ inspiration and patience. They were able to perform a miraculous transformation: from milk, a pure, yet delicate and perishable food, to a long- lasting, substantial food that could assure nourishment in long winters without fridge, light, heating, let alone supermarkets.

Aged cheese fit for a mature taste

Just like the best wines (and maybe people?) PDO Parmigiano Reggiano gets better with age too.
Its biochemical features will change with time. E.g. from the 18th month on, lactose has already been digested and transformed in simple sugars, therefore the cheese is fit for allergic people. The range of flavours changes and gets larger and more varied enhancing the savouriness, and yet not too strong nor spicy, just extra tasty. It’s perfectly normal for children, the young and people not accustomed to real Parmigiano Reggiano to prefer  a shorter maturation, which gives a sweet taste and a soft texture; on the contrary, people with an exquisite taste - as they grew up enjoying good cheese – are crazy about longer maturations. These are full of variegated flavours and deserved to be discovered calmly and bite by bite.

From a grass blade to the markets: our quality guarantee

Parmigiano Reggiano doesn’t always mature in the same place where it was born. Often a wholesaler buys it fresh from the dairy and makes it age in his storeroom before selling it directly to the consumer or to other retailers.
For some of the Baptistery Dairy’s production is the same; however, since we decided to realize the direct selling in the company store and in the farmers markets, most of the cheese wheels stay with us up to the table.
We think this is the best quality guarantee: we know each and every cheese wheel since before its birth, when it still was milk, or even better a cow ready to be milked or a grass blade the cow was feeding of

> And the voyage starts again! The same for centuries, and yet different…


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