Being a foodie myself, I have always been intrigued on the origins of exclusive ingredients have come about. Truffles Hunting? Making of coke? Wine Making? How Jamon is made? And of course cheese! The most famous cheese that all of us probably know of would be the famed Parmigiano Reggiano produced in certain region in Northern Italy! It is more commonly known to us as Parmesan cheese. Not to be afraid, this is not a foodie guide that you are reading at but my visit to a local Parmigiano Reggiano factory in the city of Parma. Without going too deep into the history of Italy, there are a couple of beloved food in the country which are namely, truffles, parma ham, balsamic vinegar and of course the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Modena is one of the food city of Italy with it being famed for the protected production of balsamic vinegar also known as the black gold! It is also one of the region that Parmigiano Reggiano is allowed to be made. Modena is only a 30 mins train ride from Bologna which makes it easy for me. Modena is a small city but the heart and soul of Italian gastronomy. Cars and Food! That is what Modena is famous for! The train station is located about a 10 mins walk from the city centre. I arrived bright and early to make for my appointment at 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia, a local dairy located in the outskirts of the city!
I have always been intrigued by the production of Parma Ham, Parmigiano Reggiano and Balsamic Vinegar, which can all be found in the region. While taking part in a day tour is the easiest way it is very expensive. I did a brief research and it cost upwards of a hundred euros minimum. Since I managed to find producers for Parmigiano Reggiano and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena that were willing to host me, I decided to do it all by myself. In fact you can do everything my yourself easily, the main concern is your transportation. If you self drive, that will be the easiest. For me, I decided to just take cabs to travel out to the outskirts, although pricey, it is still cheaper than joining a tour. Thankfully the two places that I am going to are just nearby. My taxi ride from the train station to 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia cost me 15 Euros.
If you are looking for a Parmigiano Reggiano diary to visit when you are in Modena or Bologna. You can try 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia. They are located near the city centre, a 10 to 15 mins ride away. Currently 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia produce about 2% of the world Parmesan Cheese, which is around 75,000 wheels of cheese. Trust me, that is a impressive sight to see. Especially when usually the cheese are aged for a period of 14 months to 75 months. So imagine the amount of wheels! 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia offers guided tour through their factory and allows you to see how it is made and the history behind it. The meeting point for the tour is in the store at their building.
I was thankful to be invited by Debora when I express my interest in visiting them. However all members of the public are welcomed. It does require a reservation beforehand and a small fee for the tour that comes with a tasting. Seemingly there are various packages that you can get that offers various amounts of tasting. It ranges from 5 to 15 Euros. Payment can be made at the store when you arrived. I have a quick look around the store while waiting for the others to arrived.
Debora first started out with an in depth introduction of the place, including the history of 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia, how the name come from. The little background on the cheese and how it is protected, how the name of Parmigiano Reggiano come about. We then start to make our way to the room where the milk processing takes place. This can be said as the first main step in the production of the famed cheese. As we walk pass the alley in the dairy you will come to realise that the smell of the cheese and milk keeps getting stronger. I will definitely advise you to come in the morning, before 11am to see the production, which only takes place in the morning.
We get to see the masters dredging out the curd from the milk and then drying them. It sure involves some muscle to do it. It is nice to see them having the passion for their work, I must believe that such profession are in the decline in our generation.
Then the curd are halved before they put it in their molds to give it the iconic wheel shape and the wordings on the side. The dates also put on the molds so there is a tracking for the ageing later on.
Weights are then put on the cheese to give it the pressure and also to dry out all the moisture from the curd. Then begin a process of turning and drying before being immerse in the brine, where salt is added.
After brining they are aged in the ageing storeroom which is very very impressive. It is surely an eye opener for me, it is probably the first time that I saw so many cheese. Aren’t I cheesy here!
The cheese are aged for a min of 1 year and some are up to 5 years or more. The darker the cheese wheels the longer it have been aged. I will share more on my thoughts of the Parmesan cheese later on when I talk about the tasting part. Throughout the period of the ageing, inspectors from the consortium regularly inspect each wheel of cheese to ensure that they are up to standards, only the best can be called Parmigiano Reggiano and will have the seal marked on the wheel. Those that do not meet the standards will be reinspect and if they still doesn’t meet the standards, it could be classified as second class or some to the extend, they will void the seal and feed it to the pigs. One of the inspection tools is this gold hammer where they tap to listen to the sound.
Overall the tour takes about an hour and it is a small group. There are about 10 of us being brought around by Debora. She is perfect with speaking both Italian and English. The last part would be the tasting. Of course! After hearing so much about the cheese and looking at them, I would love to try some! Actually, similar to Balsamic Vinegar, Alcohol, the parmesan cheese texture and flavour changes with time. It is not always a 5 year cheese taste better than a 1 year one. But the different in aroma, texture. It actually depends on which want you like. I am not a cheese experts but I would say that, the older the cheese, the more intense the flavour is, it gets more sharp, more nutty flavour. It is also much more dry and flaky. It feels much more intense. Which one you prefer? You got to try for yourself!
You can see the difference in color in the picture below. As a non cheese connoisseur, I just love everything! Of course, the older the cheese the more expensive it is. Since more effort and money is spend on ensuring the wheels are well kept at the optimal condition. If you want you could get some cheese at the store right here. A kg wedge cost from 13 Euros for a 12 Months aged.
I always love taking a deeper understanding of the exotic stuff that I am interested in when I am in the place of origin. Not to be said, I would love to know more about beer making, wine making, Champagne, truffles hunting, seeing how jamon is made! It feels like next on the rocks would be like visiting a whisky distillery in Scotland! Next up, continuing my food adventures, I will be visiting a family run producer of traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena!