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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 4, January 2003   
Parmesan CheeseParmesan Cheese Wine ParadeWine Parade ClassifiedClassified  Contents 
Issue 3, December 2002 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 5, February 2003

Parmesan Cheese

The king of Italian cheese has a very ancient history as well as a modern taste which is always successful in meeting even the most exacting gourmets

 Cheese plays a fundamental role in nutrition, particularly among the products of animal origin. In Italian culture, Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano in Italian), is one of the many cheeses which have very ancient history and traditions, and we can actually say, this cheese can be considered as a sign of civilization and culture, in fact, it is one of the most imitated product in the world. To recognize the real Parmesan cheese, fortunately, it is not hard and it does not need to be experts. The traditional mark (Parmigiano - Reggiano), is impressed with fire along the whole side of the cheese in order to guarantee the authenticity of the product. The mark must also be present in every cheese's piece, including the small ones. The structure and texture of this cheese is unmistakable: granulous, with its typical chip structure and its characteristic aroma.



 There is no need to do complicated historical researches in order to find information about Parmesan cheese, there are lots of signs this cheese left in the course of history, among the many, it is mentioned in Boccaccio's “Decamerone” which was written about 1350 AD: “There was a huge amount of ground Parmesan cheese, and people were standing on it, and the only thing they were doing was making macaroni and ravioli”, in the pages written by Cristoforo from Messisbugo where Parmesan cheese was served with fresh eggs and pears. Many biographers of Molière reported that, in his elder age, he loved eating Parmesan cheese. Other information can be found in manuscripts kept in some archives of Reggio Emilia. Bibliographical sources of Roman times (Columella, Varro, Martial) confirmed, in fact, the existence, since those times, that is in the beginning of the Christian era, of a cheese of Parmesan origins and having characteristics similar to the modern Parmesan cheese.

 Platina, humanist of the 1400 says: “nowadays there are two different cheese species in Italy that are the most renowned: `marzolino' (which means something related to March) which is called like that by Etruscans because it is produced in Etruria in the month of March, and Parmesan in the Cisalpine region, which can also be called `maggengo' (which means something related to May), because it is produced in May”.

Parmigiano Reggiano and its knife
Parmigiano Reggiano and its knife

 Parmesan cheese is still produced in the way it was produced eight centuries ago. It is produced in the same places, using the very same practices, the same methods in order to keep and obtain the same characteristics, the same aspect, the same fragrance.

 In 1200 Parmesan cheese already acquired its typical aspects: its characteristics were known since many years before and it is obvious this cheese has origins more ancient than those times.

 The most reliable sources say the Parmesan cheese was produced first in the valley of Enza, between the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia (Italy), that is in the heart of the current district formed by the territories of the provinces of Bologna (partly), Mantua (partly), Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia. This territory, also known as “typical area”, is delimited, since 1955, by specific laws and norms.

 Since the times Parmesan cheese was produced first, man learnt how to preserve it and handed on the techniques for its production and preservation, without being tempted by the modernity of “automation”. Still today dairymen, by using milk, rennet, fire and their traditions, are capable of giving us a product having very ancient aromas and flavors.

 Nowadays, about six hundred small artisan dairies, located in the typical area, have been granted a legal permit which allows them to keep unaltered the original production and preservation methods, guaranteeing a very high level of quality and genuineness, as it is today and tomorrow. Every cheese which happens not to have the requirements expressly stated by the production laws, cannot be marked, in any way, as “Parmigiano Reggiano”.


What is Parmesan Cheese

 Parmesan cheese has excellent hygienic and healthy characteristics which allow it to be considered as a safe food for the consumer. The way this cheese is produced, as well as its aging, inhibits, in any way, the development and the formation of any dangerous microbacteria for the health. The conditions required for a successful production guarantee the product to be healthy and nutritive.

 Concerning rennet, laws for the production of Parmesan cheese state that, for the coagulation of milk must exclusively used calf's abomasum. Moreover, it should be noticed that for the production of Parmesan cheese it is not allowed the use of any additive. Even the mark is made without using any chemical substance but only using an incandescent iron.

 There are many differences between Parmesan cheese and similar cheeses coming from other areas and sometimes confused and called with the generic appellation of “grana”. These cheeses are usually produced by industrial processes, made in large dairies and by using standardized technologies and methodologies, that cannot give the product those unique characteristics which only an artisan production, as well as a natural aging, can give. Parmesan cheese has a proper and rich concentration of nutrients, a good quantity of proteins, vitamins, mineral salts, calcium and phosphor. To make one Parmesan cheese it takes 570 liters of milk (150.57 gallons) as well as rennet, fire, dairy mastery and the proper aging time. Parmesan cheese is a complete food, healthy and genuine. A cheese of Parmesan has an average weight of 38 Kg. (83.77 lbs.) 100 g. (3.5 oz.) of Parmesan cheese are usually digested in 45 minutes, whereas it takes 4 hours to digest the same quantity of meat. The nutritive value of 100 g. of Parmesan cheese practically correspond to 300 g. (10.58 oz.) or beef, 700 g. (24.69 oz.) of trout or 570 g. (20.10 oz.) of milk.

Humidityg. 30,80
Proteinsg. 33
Fatsg. 24,80
Calciumg. 1,16
Phosphorg. 0,68
Calcium to Phosphor ratio1,71
Sodiumg. 1,39
Magnesiummg. 43
Zincmg. 4
Vitamin Aμg. 298
Vitamin B1μg. 32
Vitamin B2μg. 370
Vitamin B6μg. 106
Vitamin B12μg. 4,2
Cholineμg. 42
Biotinμg. 22
Composition of Parmesan cheese (100~g. - 3.5~oz.)

 Parmesan cheese does not contain lactose, as a consequence of the dairy process, there is a quick development of lactic bacteria which ferment all the lactose present in the curd in about 6-8 hours. Even galactose, which derives from lactose, is quickly metabolized by lactose bacteria and within 24-48 hours disappears completely.

 The geological characteristics of the soil, the genuineness of cow breeding, as well as the unique environmental combinations which allow the production of a precious milk, different from thew one produced in the neighboring areas, make Parmesan cheese a truly inimitable product.

 36% of Parmesan cheese is made of proteins (more than any other cheese), 28% are made of fats, 1.3% is calcium and 0.7% is phosphor. Parmesan cheese is also rich in vitamins and the calories for 100 g. (3.5 .oz) are 392.

 Parmesan cheese is usually considered as the most complete food besides motherly milk. Modern dietetics recommends Parmesan cheese for children and old people because of its high contents in nutrients, digestibility as well as for its contents of calcium, phosphor and other mineral salts. It is pretty rare a food is equally considered as good and healthy by gastronomes, physicians and dietitians. Pediatrists, for example, recommends to use Parmesan cheese to season babies' paps. During the adolescence, Parmesan cheese is a very important food for young people and it is also important, because of its nutritive characteristics, for old people as well, thanks to the quantity of indispensable substances which are healthy for our body and for our wellness.

 Even athletic trainers believe on Parmesan cheese's nutritive characteristics and they recommend it as an indispensable food for the diet of any athlete.



 Nowadays, as it was in the past, to make Parmesan cheese it takes milk, exclusively from the typical area, rennet (which is a product of animal origin and coming from calf's stomach), fire and dairymen mastery and, lastly, a proper time for aging. It takes about 16 liters of milk (4.2 gallons) to make one kilogram of cheese (2.2 lbs.) and the milk is the one coming from the provinces of Parma, Modena, Reggio Emilia and part of the provinces of Mantua and Bologna.


 The milk of the evening milking is directly sent to the dairy's vats. This milk is allowed to stay in these vats until the morning after, then it is skimmed and added to the whole milk of the morning milking. After that it is added a starter whey as well as a natural culture of lactic ferments obtained by the natural acidification of the residual whey of the day before, and rennet. The mixture is poured in cauldrons in order to produce and transform milk into Parmesan cheese.

 The curd is then wrapped in a cloth and it is subsequently put in a woody or metallic mold called “fascera” and it is slightly pressed in order to promote the whey to drain out. During this phase the Parmesan cheese gets its characteristic shape. After this, the cheese is salted by submerging it in a solution made of water and salt for about three weeks. After a brief time of exposition to the sun in order to harden the crust, the cheese is sent to the aging deposit, a climate controlled and humidified room.

 From this moment begins the long aging process of the Parmesan cheese, every fifteen days the cheeses are cleaned and checked in order to guarantee the quality of the resulting product. After twelve months, dairy technicians evaluates the cheese by beating with a tiny hammer the sides of cheese and listening the sound which is produced in order to determine its quality. In case the cheese is considered as good and having the required quality, it is then marked with an incandescent iron. Parmesan cheese of superior quality is also marked with the quality sign “extra”. After 24 months the Parmesan cheese is ready to be enjoyed.



 Parmesan cheese, purchased in portions obtained by cutting the cheese in pieces, (preferably cut with the proper almond shaped knife), allow the appreciation of the cheese's characteristics such as color, typical granular structure, and must be wrapped in a plastic or aluminum film, and it should be kept in the lower part of the refrigerator, at a temperature from 0° to +5° C. (32° to 41° F) Particular attention should be paid to the crust which must be kept clean in order to prevent the formation of molds. The modern packing technology allows to obtain a product which is cut in specific pieces that will satisfy the most recurring needs while guaranteeing hygiene and ease of transportation.


How to Cut Parmesan Cheese

 First of all, make sure you have the characteristic short almond shaped knife, it should be pointed as well as having a blade on one of its sides in order to make easier the penetration of the knife while the other thicker side will be used as a wedge. Parmesan cheese does not get cut, it gets “opened”, in order not to alter the inner structure and keep the original granularity. The operation starts by tracing a line, as well as on the sides, which divides the cheese in two halves, then the crust will be incised along this line while penetrating the knife, in some points of the line, for about 2 centimeters (1 inch). At the extremities of one side of the cheese's diameter, two knives will be hammered, with strength, in order to have these knives working as wedges and the cheese will open in two equal halves. This operation requires lots of experience and attention because the opening of the cheese will be considered as perfect only when the internal structure of the cheese will have opposed the same level of resistance on both halves. Even subsequent “cuts” must be done in the same way in order to obtain equal pieces having the same proportion of crust and paste.


Some Useful Information

 Experienced people who works in the making of Parmesan cheese make use of specific terms to classify and qualify this product. They define a Parmesan cheese as “new” when it was produced in the current year; “mature” when it was aged from 12 to 18 months; “old” when it was aged from 18 to 24 months; “very old” when it was aged for more than two summer seasons (from 24 to 36 months).

 One of the most characteristic aspects of Parmesan cheese is the color of its paste. When the color is “straw yellow” it means the cows were fed with fresh forage. The color of Parmesan cheese is evenly soft and smooth along the whole surface of the paste and ranges from golden-straw yellow to straw yellow.

 Another typical aspect of Parmesan cheese is concerned the paste which, as the product gets mature, detaches in thin chips converging to the center of the cheese; the paste is pretty soft and has a very tiny granularity.

 Other factors which qualifies Parmesan cheese and differentiate it from any other else, being an artisan product, are: age, seasoning, aroma and flavor, structure and texture, consistency, state of the crust and dimension (average weight of a Parmesan cheese is from 33 to 44 kilograms, 72.75 to 97 lbs.)

 Experts judge Parmesan cheese by evaluating the above mentioned factors, as well as beating the cheese with a little hammer in order to evaluate its internal structure. By means of “broaching”, a little quantity of paste is extracted by using a screwed needle; this operation is used to measure the resistance of the paste to the needle in order to evaluate consistency, whereas the extracted paste will reveal the aroma as well as the aging. The “wedging” of cheese is rarely accomplished, anyway it is done only in case there are some uncertainty about the quality of the cheese. Finally, it should be noticed that evaluating the quality of Parmesan cheese takes lots of experience.


Parmesan Cheese and Cooking

 Parmesan cheese in an irreplaceable ingredient of good Italian cooking as well as in the famous Mediterranean diet. It is used grounded as a condiment for pasta, rice, soups and broth, including a classical recipe like “Carpaccio”. Parmesan cheese is also excellent as a table cheese, eaten alone or with vegetables, nuts, sandwiches and toasts. A match that should be tried is Parmesan cheese and fresh fruits: apples, pears, peaches, figs, grape and nuts. Another habit, originated outside Italy, is to serve chips of Parmesan cheese and nuts with aperitifs and cocktails, in order to enhance the flavor of dry liquors.

 Parmesan cheese can be well matched with red wines of good body as well as with fortified wines, such as Marsala, dessert wines, a good example could be Albana passito, and sparkling wines such as Talento, Franciacorta, Cava or Champagne.


 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 4, January 2003   
Parmesan CheeseParmesan Cheese Wine ParadeWine Parade ClassifiedClassified  Contents 
Issue 3, December 2002 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 5, February 2003

Wine Parade


The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.

Rank Wine, Producer
1 Masseto 1998, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia
2 Semillon Sauvignon 2001, Cape Mentelle
3 Muffato della Sala 1999, Castello della Sala
4 Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 2000
5 Chardonnay 2000, Planeta
6 Rioja Reserva “Pagos Viejos” 1997, Bodega Artadi - Cosecheros Alavares
7 Capo di Stato 1998, Conte Loredan Gasparin
8 Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac 2000
9 Gevrey Chambertin DB Boillot 1998
10 Teroldego Rotaliano Granato 1998, Foradori
11 Château Laroque Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classè 1998
12 Champagne Ayala Brut
13 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1995, Fattoria dei Barbi
14 Albariño 2000, Pazo de Senorans
15 Trentino Müller Thurgau “Pendici del Baldo” 2001 - Mori Colli Zugna

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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 4, January 2003   
Parmesan CheeseParmesan Cheese Wine ParadeWine Parade ClassifiedClassified  Contents 
Issue 3, December 2002 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 5, February 2003



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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 4, January 2003   
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