Processing

Every day, the milk from the evening milking is left to rest until morning in large vats, where the fatty part spontaneously rises to the surface. This is used for the production of butter. As soon as the whole milk form the morning milking arrives from the farm, the skimmed milk from the night before is poured into the typical bell-shaped copper cauldrons where calf rennet and fermented whey, rich in natural lactic ferments obtained from the processing of the day before, are added.

The milk coagulates in around ten minutes, and the curd which forms is then broken down into minuscule granules using a traditional tool called “spino”. This is where fire comes into the picture, in a cooking process which reaches 55 degrees centigrade, after which the cheesy granules sink to the bottom of the cauldron forming a single mass.

After resting for around fifty minutes, the cheese mass is removed, with deft movements, by the cheese maker. Cut into two parts and wrapped in its typical cloth, the cheese is then placed in a mould which will give it its final shape. Each cheese is given a unique, progressive number using a casein plate and this number remains with it just like an identity card.

Each cheese has used around 600 litres of milk and the constant care of the farmers and cheese masters. After a few hours, a special marking band engraves the month and year of production onto the cheese, as well as its cheese dairy registration number and the unmistakable dotted inscriptions around the complete circumference of the cheese wheel, which is then, after a few days, immersed in a water and salt-saturated solution. It is a process of salting by absorption which, within less than a month, closes the production cycle and opens the not less fascinating cycle of maturation.

Maturation and Quality Control

The cheese is allowed to rest on wooden tables where the outside of the cheese dries forming a natural crust without being treated in any way and therefore remaining perfectly edible.
The story of Parmigiano Reggiano is a long one, and also slow, following at the natural rhythm of the seasons. In fact, the minimum maturation time is twelve months, and only at this point can it be decided if each individual cheese is worthy of the name it was given at its birth.

Fire-Branding

The experts of the Consortium examine each cheese one by one. After the Control Body’s inspection, a mark is fire-branded onto the individual cheeses which meet the requirements of the Protected Designation of Origin. All identifying marks and the dotted inscriptions are removed from any cheeses which do not meet the PDO requirements. It is one of the most crucial moments for the cheese makers and also one of the most important for the consumers: the moment of selection and the granting of a certificate of absolute guarantee for the product. The cheeses which are sent for sale to the consumer as fresh (a term which may sound curious for a product which has been maturing for a year) will have parallel lines engraved on them which render them immediately recognisable by the consumer. This is the second class of Parmigiano Reggiano called “Mezzano”. When the cheese has matured for 18 months, the mark “Extra” or “Export” can be added. A system of coloured seals help the consumer identify the level of maturation of the pre-packaged products available in retailers.