Friday, March 13, 2009

To Parm or Not to Parm? That is the question....

The word Parmesan has become synonymous with the powder flakes that come in the green tube with a shaker top. While I’ve been known to get my “sprinkle on” when out for Pizza, there are many things to be said about the original cheese the tube cheese takes its name from. The original is one of the Kings of cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano.

The Seal of Approval – What most people don’t know about this Italian wonder is that it is a name protected cheese that is held under strict guidelines for production. Once an authorized producer is done making cheese the cheese is then put up against a tasting panel made up of its peers. This organization is called the Conzorzio. Founded in 1934 the self governing organization is made up of about 600 Parmigiano Dairies.

Don’t get me wrong, 600 producers sounds like a lot but the high standards the producers are held to make it so that each dairy can only produce up to 9 wheels each morning.

Fun Facts of Conzorzio Guidelines:
• The Conzorzio allows no silage or other fermented feed for the animals. In other words the cows can only be fed fresh cut grass to keep milk quality high.
• The milk travels in milk cans and must be poured into vats by hand. No pumping of the milk is allowed.
• To be a Parmigiano producer the cheesemaker must have ten to fourteen years active apprenticeship. This is a lifetime of experience.

Within the 600 producers in the Conzorzio there are many variations of Parmigiano Reggiano. We find the cheeses made at a higher altitude will have more depth in flavor. Potentially because the cows have a greater diversity of pasture, for nutrition, giving the milk more flavor. The milk from the mountains also tends to come from herds of cows that are less common in the region. The Brown Swiss cows are the favorite of quality producers because the milk is richer than that of their Friesian cousins, also known as the milk machines of the cow world.

This wheel, you see in the picture is produced by the Cravero family. One of the best producers we know, they have a longer age profile, 28 months for this specific wheel, giving the cheese a well rounded flavor with dominant tropical and nutty characteristics. The cheese in the can is a completely different animal.

What are the flavor crystals we love so much in traditional Parmigiano- Reggiano?
18 to 24 months after production we begin to see the wheels that have received the seal of approval in the shop. An authentic wheel will have tiny crystals crunching on the palate. As the cheese ages the proteins in the cheese break down into smaller nutritional units. Some, particularly tyrosine, are converted into a natural crystalline structure.

Come try some of this amazing product today. See you at the shop.


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