Nov 15, 2009

This entry is brought to you by guest blogger: Artie Zan, Good For You Market's 'Cheese Wiz.'

Step aside Provolone, for Parmesan-Reggiano is arguably the world’s most famous, and oldest cheese with production stretching back over 800 years. Reggie, as I call him, is packed with sweet, nutty, complex flavor. In cooking, Parmesan-Reggiano is suitable for many recipes, from soups, sauces, filling for stuffed pastas, roast meats, baking, desserts (try it with strawberries if you don’t believe me!), grating over cooked dishes, and even as finger food for snacking. Forget that powdery shredded stuff in sealed plastic tubs, that’s as close to Parmesan-Reggiano as I am to the Zan family living in Australia, whom I recently found on Facebook.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is produced in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northwest Italy, specifically the Po Valley (Emilia), and the mountains stretching east to the Adriatic sea (Romagna). True Parmesan-Reggiano is crafted only in this region, thus preserving authenticity. Why the ’Parma’ in Parmesan? The city of Parma is the center of this region; an area rich with beautiful lakes, lush mountains and green pastures.

Emilia-Romagna has developed its specific culinary style and at its center is Parmesan-Reggiano. Each of the main cities in Emilia has a presence in this cuisine. Parma is proud of its prosciutto, with the pigs being fed on the whey left over from Parmesan-Reggiano production. Bologna tantalizes us with mortadella and the meat-based ragù. Piacenza give us its spectacular tortellini; and Ferrara its sausage. Fresh pasta (pasta fresca), and dried hard durum wheat pasta (pasta secca) is found everywhere. Romagna is none too shabby with its aromatic herbs, gamey meats, fresh fish and the Piadina peasant breads from the Adriatic coast. For those who’ve vacationed in Rimini, you have to have experienced these peasant breads. Gosh, how could I mention this region without a nod of the head to Balsamic Vinegar: produced exclusively in Modena province? Look for that on any label of Balsamic Vinegar, else use it to kill the weeds in your driveway.

Italy is so rich in food culture and dear to my heart (being a vanguard of chemical-free farming, almost by default) that my focus always wanders off when I think of Italian foods. Back to Parmesan-Reggiano, the Granddaddy of all cheeses, and head of the “Grana” family: cheeses characterized by their ‘granular’ texture. To best appreciate this texture, best to pull Parmesan-Reggiano apart roughly; grate it if you will, but never slice!

Parmesan-Reggiano production is done by hand using the same traditional techniques handed down for centuries, overseen by a very strict consortium! Parmesan-Reggiano is made from un-pasteurized cows milk from the region’s dairy herds, ensuring a rich bacterial flora. On a daily basis, from April – November, fresh whole morning milk is mixed with partially skimmed milk from the prior evening’s milking, plus fermented whey from the previous day’s production. This mix is performed in copper vats, the whey helping to initiate fermentation. No way. Yes, whey! Natural rennet coagulates the milk, forming the curds that are the beginning of the cheese. Besides the salt bath that the cheese wheels are immersed in for firming, there are no other additives allowed. Each copper vat makes just two wheels of cheese. However, these wheels are monster truck huge – weighing around 88 pounds. Have you ever seen the forearms on a Cheese Wiz? The wheels are recognized externally by their straw-like color. Internally the color varies with age, from soft yellow, to the same straw-like color of the outside. Minimum required aging is 14 months, with most wheels aged to two years. A wonderful thing about aging of this cheese is the evolving flavor profile. Younger wheels are nutty and sweet, older wheels more complex with caramel, butterscotch and tropical fruit flavors.

So, what’s that fuzzy writing you can see on the outside of the Parmesan-Reggiano wheel? That is the certification mark ensuring expert inspection for quality and appearance. There is also the assurance of identity that runs the entire circumference of the wheel’s outside edge. This means that the wheel is still recognizable as Parmesan-Reggiano, even if it has been cut into smaller pieces. You can also identify which province the cheese was made in, at what time of year, and which specific producer made it. Ask the G4U Cheese Wiz to show you, test us!

Oh man, am I hungry!

Later, dudes, Artie Zan, G4U Market’s ‘Cheese Wiz’ over and out to lunch.

1 comments:

This is a very nice post, thanks.
Found for myself some new details ..
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