Friday was a day for the senses!
The morning began with a visit to the Reggiano Parmisiano cheese factory. While there we saw the entire process from start to finish. We learned that to be official Reggiano Parmisiano cheese, the following requirements must be met:
The milk must come from cows that are from Reggio Emilia Province
The cheese must be made in RE
The cheese must meet the standards set forth by the board that governs cheese.
Making cheese is not a job for the weak - in muscles or stomach. The men who were stirring the vat of curdling milk must not only have strong muscles, but also be able to withstand dipping their hands / lower arms into vats of milk at a temperature of 120 degrees C.....yes Celcius!
Then the cheese is set into molds. First plastic and then metal. The molds have the imprint of Reggiano Parmisiano as well as information to the date. It's very specific. They spend 2 days in the molds. Then they spend 20 days out of the molds in a room drying. Then they spend 2 weeks in a salt bath. Then they spend 2 months in another chamber and finally they are aged 2 years in a room. (rule of 2's the man told us). It's actually a fascinating process. The cheeses are stacked up row upon row. There is a saying about having 'cheese in the bank' which is quite fair because a 100lb wheel of Reggiano Parmesiano has the potential to bring in up to $1000. Before the cheeses can be sold they are tested (first test is a sound test with a hammer and then if needed, samples are taken) and it is graded 1, 2 or 3. Grade 1 is the finest quality. It will sell for about 13€ a kg. Grade 2 is used for shredded parmesiano because it has some structural defects and it can sell for around 8 or 10€ a kg. Grade 3 has structural and other defects, it is still edible...but it no longer is high enough quality to be considered Reggiano Parmesiano. So it has it's outer rind shaved off (to remove the RP label) and is sold as cheese from Italy. This usually sells for around 6€ a kg.
At times the smells were quite intense and some of the group had trouble with it. It was a sour smell, but underneath it all one could still smell the deliciousness that would be. Afterall of this, we went back to where we started and got to taste the cheese before it hardened. Words that the students threw around to describe the taste included: styrofoam, sour, nothing. I thought it was plain but that I could detect a hint of parmisiano.
At the end we got to taste the real thing....we tried Grade 1 cheese that had been aged 1 year and also 2 years. It was a matter of taste and preference. The longer it is aged, the more expensive it is and yes, in my opinion, the better it tastes. Delicioso!
After visiting the Parmisiano Cheese factory, we went to one that produced Balsamic Vinagrette. For now suffice it to say that again my taste buds were enlightened! I will have to post about this at another time, most likely when I return to Texas.
Early departure in the morning....Arreviderci Italia!