The Cheesiest Blog Post I’ve Ever Written – My Parmesan Factory Tour
Written by Jaillan Yehia
Remember the bad old days when our idea of Parmesan was that powdery substance we’d sprinkle on spaghetti through tiny holes in the top of a cardboard shaker?
Little did I know that decades later this condiment would make way for the real deal when something called a rocket and parmesan salad would become de riguer on my plate, with fresh, nutty chunks of real parmigiano reggiano becoming a mercifully permanent fixture in restaurants and homes.
It was with this enthusiasm for Parmesan that I myself became a temporary fixture inside one of Emilia Romagna’s famous Parmesan ‘banks’ for a special Parmesan factory tour…
I feel I’ve been driving around the verdant Italian countryside forever, past tumble-down terracotta-hued farmhouses and endless fields, before I reach my destination.
The Bertinelli farm has been here practically forever itself; having started in 1895 it’s now being run by the third generation of the family and they’ve agreed to let me get a behind the scenes look at one of only three farms which can lay claim to producing real bona fide Parmesan onsite using home grown ingredients through every part of the food chain.
There are around 200 certified producers of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, which by definition must originate in Emilia Romagna or a special area of Lombardy because it is these areas’ highly specific native flora and ‘good bacteria’ which gives the world-famous cheese its special taste.
Production starts early in the morning I’m told, and guests at the farm’s on-site agroturismo can breakfast on raw milk from the local cows plus home made pastries made with wheat from the surrounding fields.
Dinner unsurprisingly involves meat from these very cows and locally grown vegetables. I begin to wish I’d been here for breakfast and was staying on for dinner too.
This is a highly regulated industry and I learn about the specific process that lends Parmesan its unique flavour – for example using the milk from within exactly the first 100 days of the cows milk production (so it is protein rich), and for every 10 litres of milk used, only 1 kilo of Parmesan cheese is yielded.
Where there’s muck, there’s brass as they say, and I’m educated on the close relationship between two of Italy’s most well-known and treasured exports – Parmesan and Parma ham.
Any proper Parma ham pig should eat the whey from the Parmesan milk meaning the two products are indelibly and edibly intertwined.
It’s a surprise to learn then that despite the peace and tranquility of the farm, coupled with the history and seriousness of the Parmesan inspector (who comes and performs a special knock on the cheeses to check for quality) there’s also a non-stop party until 5 am here each Friday and Saturday.
Weekends see two to three thousand revellers descend on the farm – the current man in charge studied in Canada and came back to take over the family business with some revolutionary new ideas to attract a younger crowd – but don’t worry you can still buy Parma ham at the party and take it home for breakfast.
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