How we make our Parmigiano Reggiano
Parmigiano Reggiano production begins with milk collection, which is done twice a day: once in the evening, and once in the morning, after milking.
The whole milk of the evening milking is left to rest overnight. Overnight, the fatty part of the milk, the cream, floats naturally to the surface, and is then used later to make butter.
The milk remaining below the cream layer is called skimmed milk.
Early in the morning, the copper cauldrons with their typical upturned cone shape are ready to welcome this precious liquid.
In this very delicate phase, only the skimmed milk is poured into the vats, without the cream. At this stage, the whole milk, delivered to the cheese factory after the morning milking, is also added to the cauldrons.
The proportions of skimmed and whole milk are determined by the cheese maker, the person in charge at the factory. The quality of the final product depends greatly on the skill and experience of the cheese maker.
Turning milk into cheese Parmigiano Reggiano
Milk is turned into Parmigiano Reggiano in 3 separate phases:
- CURD BREAKING
Phase 1 - Heating : Once in the cauldron, the milk is heated slowly.
During this process, the whey starter culture is added, a liquid mixture rich in lactic ferments obtained from the processing of the previous day's milk.
The milk is heated to around 30° C and then the calf rennet is added.The mixture is stirred carefully then left to rest for 8-10 minutes to allow for natural coagulation. This produces the curd.
Phase 2 - Curd breaking: In this phase the curd is broken into small granules, and the cheese maker checks that the curd has reached the right density.
A special tool, the "spino", is used to break the curd, the same tool that has been used in this most important phase of the process for centuries.
Phase 3 - Cooking: As the name of this third and final phase implies, the mixture is then heated to 55° C.
At this temperature, the micro-granules lose their humidity and sink to the bottom of the cauldron.
After around 50 minutes, the compact mass can be removed from the cauldron.
Using a wooden paddle, the solidified cheesy mass is removed and wrapped in muslin, the only fabric used for this purpose because of its intrinsic properties of absorption and strength.
The mass is ready to be cut into 2 equal parts. Each half is placed in a plastic mould, the buckle known as “fascera”, and pressed down with a Teflon weight. And this is how 2 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano are made.
Parmigiano Reggiano takes shape
Every wheel produced during the day is turned four times; the first and second time, the wet muslin is replaced with a dry one to absorb more humidity.
the dots that form the words Parmigiano Reggiano
The next morning, the wheels are placed in a special steel belt that gives them their unmistakeable rounded shape.
Packaging and sale
At the end of the maturation process, which lasts between 12 and 36 months or more, the Parmigiano Reggiano is ready to be enjoyed by consumers.
During the packaging phase, the wheels, weighing around 40 kg after maturing, are cut into different sized pieces to suit a variety of consumer needs.
The wheels are generally cut into wedges weighing around 1 kg each, vacuum-packed and immersed in boiling water, to make the wrapper adhere perfectly to the cheese.
The 4 Madonne dell’Emilia cheese factory has a superbly stocked factory shop next to the packaging area.
To further meet the needs of consumers and increase knowledge and worldwide sales of this exclusive product, the 4 Madonne dell’Emilia cheese factory runs daily guided tours for visitors wishing to find out the secrets of production, and organises Parmigiano Reggiano tasting sessions in its tasting room.
So more than just tradition, the ability to innovate and continuously offer new ideas to keep the flavour of this bygone treasure alive.
Our Cheese Maker Giuliano Lusoli:
“A good cheese maker is endowed with great constancy and a passion for the job. I have been doing this job for 30 or 31 years…it is a profession that is usually handed down through the generations…from father to son…but I learned from my own cheese maker, who taught me the trade 30 years ago…I loved it… The cheese maker's job carries a huge responsibility: the quality of the cheese, which must be high, depends on my decisions, I am responsible for around a hundred families, seventy cooperative members who deliver their milk, plus all the workers I manage here at the factory. The secret of our Parmigiano Reggiano is certainly the milk produced by the cows fed on local hay and flour meal defined by our Parmigiano Reggiano consortium. Another fundamental ingredient we obtain from the correct feeding of our cows is the whey starter culture. Starter culture is simply the lactic ferments we produce in-house.”