Category Archives: Parmesan

Say cheese

By Hannah Dustman

PARMA, Italy –Samuela Cavani’s eyes widen as she rattles off the cheese production process, primarily in Italian, and smiles widely as we filed through the storage house.

Wheels of traditional, handmade Parmigiano Reggiano cheese line the wooden shelves of her family-run Societa’ Agricola Saliceto cheese farm, as approximately 40 Mizzou students took turns entering into the small, plain white storage house to learn more about the iconic food of the region.

Parmigiano Reggiano has been produced in the Poe River and Apennine mountain area for the past 800 years, starting a long-lasting tradition of high quality and all-natural Parmesan cheese. Every step is regulated, beginning with feeding the cows.

Here’s the steps to create traditional Parmigiano Reggiano:

Step 1: The fresh milk is brought to the milk house and placed into holding basins where the cream naturally separates overnight, resulting in partially skimmed milk.

Step 2: The partially skimmed milk from the night before is added to whole milk gathered in the morning, and both are mixed and warmed in a large copper cauldron.

Step 3: Natural whey starter and natural rennet enzyme are added to the milk mixture then whisked by a large tool called a spino.

Step 4: The milk enters the cooking process that is carefully controlled by the Parmigiano maker, which results in a single mass of cheese.

Step 5: The cheese is removed from the cauldron and placed in a mold to rest for a couple of days.

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Cheese at rest. Photo by Hannah Dustman

Step 6: After resting, the cheese is placed to soak in a salt water solution for 18 days.

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Eighteen-day salt water soak. Parmigiano Reggiano in process at Societa’ Agricola Saliceto. Photo by Hannah Dustman

Step 7: The Parmigiano Reggiano is removed from the solution and set on the wooden shelves to begin a minimum 12-month slow aging process.

Step 8: Finally, the cheese wheel is inspected and awarded the certification mark of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano if it passes inspection. The certified cheese is stamped with specific labels, indicating it is indeed traditional Parmigiano.

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Certified Parmigiano Reggiano cheese at Societa’ Agricola Saliceto. Photo by Hannah Dustman

But the most important step for me was cheese tasting. Three round platters of Parmigiano sat upon a long white folding table, which also included a bowl of sweet honey and pitcher of  water. We were instructed to taste each of the three ages of the Parmigiano – 12, 24 and 36 months.

I lightly coated my cracker with a small chunk of cheese and drizzled a light dusting of honey on top. The 12 month cheese suited me best, over both the 24 and 36 month wheels, because of its lighter and creamier texture. The dense and dry older cheeses were a point of pride for the family-run cheese operation, however. The mother-daughter duo who assisted us throughout the visit to the farm took care to explain the production process. This work, I could tell, and this cheese was something they cherished.

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Filed under MU Journalism Abroad, Parmesan, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

For the love of cheese

By Claire Lardizabal

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.


Filed under MU Journalism Abroad, Parmesan, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

Say cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano

Jordan Bromberg

FLORENCE, Italy – As we visit Parma to observe the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano, I am reminded, once again, of the incredible power of age and time. After walking us through the surprisingly small factory, one of several in the middle of the hilly, green countryside, the owners of the family-run business invited us to enjoy the cheese, bread, cake, cherries and olives that were spread out on a long table outside. The sweet, milky smell of new cheese blew through the wind with the edges of the crisp, white tablecloth that hung over the table. I was eager to taste the cheese after having learned about the careful process used to create some of the most coveted Parmesan in Italy. On one end of the table lay Parmesan aged 24 months. The same type of cheese, aged only 12 months, sat on the opposite end.

My knife slid through the younger, lighter colored cheese smoothly. I noticed a few crunchier crystals as I tasted and chewed the soft Parmesan that was salty with sweet undertones. The older cheese crumbed as I tried to cut it. It was drier and grainier than the younger cheese, but its flavor was more savory and rich. Its scent was reminiscent of warm butter. I noticed more of the delicious crunchy crystals in the older cheese. The cheese aged 24 months, in fact, had more calories, fat, protein, calcium, as well as other vitamins and minerals, than its 12-month-old relative. Something about the density, the evaporating water content, and the process as a whole, made it so.

The older Parmesan I tasted was considered to have reached perfection. Its savory flavor and the ease with which it grated and crumbled made it a tasty addition to many Italian dishes.

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