FLORENCE, Italy – Marco Cavani began the San Michele Parmigiano Reggiano factory eight years ago with his wife, Samuela. Samuela grew up making cheese and brought her knowledge to the table when they began their business.
The Cavani’s Parmigiano Reggiano products are labeled DOP (protected designation of origin). The label represents authenticity and distinguishes it from imitators. In Parma, an inspector comes to businesses like the Cavani’s, and inspects every wheel to ensure quality product true to the region.
When we entered the facility, we were asked to cover our feet with electric blue shower caps to prevent dragging in contaminants. Steam was already rising from 1,000 liters of milk in each of three deep, copper vats. After reaching 17°C, rennet, an enzyme that causes milk to become cheese, was added and contined to heat the milk until it reached 27°C. Even though the Cavani’s used modern day thermometers to test the liquid, Marco or Samuela almost reflexively dipped their fingers into the milk to gauge temperature and consistency. Then, Marco used a huge whisk called a spino to break the milk texture as it coagulated.
As the cheese curds dropped to the bottom and whey bubbled at the top, Marco explained that nothing goes to waste in the cheese factory. Remaining whey:
• is used to activate the coagulation process for tomorrow’s batch,
• is used as a starter to make ricotta,
• and is added to organic feed for pigs in the area.
An elderly man who silently waited in the background also received a gallon of whey. Marco explained that whey has remedial properties as well. Arthritis can be relieved, he said, with a hand or body whey bath to help with blood circulation, plus, one cup of whey for ten days can be consumed to reduce body pains.
Cooled, fresh Parmigiano Reggiano is stamped with the DOP label and left in a salt-water bath for 22 days. Then, at San Michele, the wheel will sit in a pungent room with 5,000 other wheels. After a year, an inspector will check the cheese. Defects such as an air bubble can result in the DOP label being removed.
Marco says that out of every 100 wheels, only two will have rinds marked to indicate a defect, and one will have the rind completely removed and sold at a lesser price.