We love the Parmesan cheese – on pasta, risotto, or we nibble it each time we pass the refrigerator. Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano) is only produced in a part of the region Emilia-Romagna. Any cheese produced outside of this region is not a real Parmesan cheese.
Tourist visit of a cheese dairy
There are several dairies which offer tourist visits to the dairy and show the whole process of making the cheese. The list is available on this webpage. We visited the Latteria Grande, which offered tours in English on a Sunday and was very responsive on Facebook. We had an amazing time visiting the dairy!
Different cows give different Parmigiano Reggiano
The visit started at 8.30 am when the cheese production was already in full swing. First, we saw big containers for fresh milk which is delivered daily from local farms. Also, cows are only allowed to be living in the region. They mostly use milk of Holstein Friesian cows originating from the Netherlands which can produce 30 liters of milk per day. A small part of the cheese production is also from the milk of old red cow breed, which can produce only 15 liters of milk per day and the cheese is correspondingly more expensive.
Each day fresh milk is delivered
We continued our tour in the main hall where the cheese of that day was produced. There, the milk of the morning was mixed with half-skimmed milk of the day before and poured into copper containers where the cheese production began. Before we came, whey (bacteria for making the curd) was already added to the milk, heated and the curd formed. We could try it, and it had a very mild taste – nothing like the Parmesan cheese we know. The curd was then broken into small pieces and collected with a cloth and divided into two parts (future two cheese wheels) and put into a mold to get its characteristic wheel shape. Can you imagine that the curd weighted 100 kilos! 10% of the remaining liquid in the container is then used for cheese making the next day, and 90% is used to feed the pigs, bred for Parma ham.
Cheese wheels are formed
Next, we visited a vast room with cheeses in metal molds. When the curd gets drier, the cheese is transferred from the cloth into a metal mold. After a day or two, the name ‘Parmeggiano Reggiano’, the date and code of the dairy are imprinted in the edges of the cheese wheel. Then, cheese is immersed in salt water for 20 days. We could just see the glimpses of cheeses at the bottom of the pool. During this time, the water goes out of the cheese and salt goes in.
880 tons of cheese!!
Afterward, the young cheese is transferred to aging rooms. We must admit that the aging room was the most impressive part of the tour! Can you imagine that 22 000 wheels of cheese are kept there, each weighing 40 kilos! I do not think we could eat so much cheese in our whole lifetime!
It takes several years to get the perfect Parmigiano Reggiano
In the aging room, cheese is routinely cleaned with a particular machine. After 12 months in the aging room, each wheel is inspected, and if anything is wrong with it, they remove the ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’marking from the edges. If everything ok, cheese is ready to be consumed or aged for another year or two. Our guide showed us the sound of perfect cheese and of the cheese which probably has a hole inside. I must admit I could not hear the difference – this is why it takes years to become a cheese master! In the video posted above, you can try for yourself, if you hear the difference.
If the cheese is ok, it is left to age for another year or two. A small part of the cheese is aged for a longer time, but the price rises accordingly.
And finally, cheese tasting!
The tour ended with cheese tasting. We started with mild 20 days old cheese which still does not have the characteristic Parmesan cheese taste and continued with 12 months, 24 months and 36 months aged cheese. Our favorite was the 36 months which can be eaten with pasta or alone at the end of the meal. We could not help ourselves, and we bought 6 kilos of cheese – it will probably last for a few months 🙂
We loved the tour, and after seeing how long it takes to make great cheese, we respect it even more. We recommend visiting a Parmesan cheese dairy to any foodie or foodie-to-be!