THE KING OF CHEESES
Anyone familiar with Mario Batali knows what cheese I'm referring to: parmigiano reggiano. Now, I grew up eating very little Italian food. When my mom made spaghetti she made the sauce with a packaged spaghetti sauce to which she added tomato paste and water - along with a pat of butter! To top off this dish there was that ubiquitous green can, so well known on most American tables when I was growing up. For some unknown reason, that stuff in the green can just never appealed to me - perhaps my taste buds knew they should be saving themselves for the real deal in years to come! Last fall, on our grand tour of Italy, we were finally able to visit Emilia-Romagna, home of parmigiano reggiano, and to see it being made.
While I don't remember all the details about the process, but I can tell you that to be authentic parmigiano-reggiano cheese it must first of all be made within the designated region. It must also be made from the milk gathered from two different milkings: the milk that's collected in the evening has to sit and be treated, then it's mixed with the milk from the morning milking, stirred in giant copper vats. The curds are then gathered up in cloth, drained, set in forms, and left to sit in a salt water bath for several days. After that the wheels of cheese are stacked on shelves where they age for anywhere from 18 to 24 months. Making parmigiano reggiano is serious business, and each batch of cheese must meet strict standards and must pass a taste test conducted by a panel of experts before it can have 'Parmigiano Reggiano' emblazoned on its rind.
Here are some pictures from our tour: