PDO Parmigiano Reggiano is perhaps one of Italy's most internationally recognised delicacies and is used in a multitude of traditional dishes from the dolce vita country.
This cheese has become somewhat of an institution in the Emilia-Romagna region. Firstly, there’s the area where the cheese is made, which covers a good chunk of the Emilia region, comprising the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena, and also extends to a number of towns in the Bologna area (in addition to a few towns in the Mantova province in Lombardy). Its origins can also be traced back to the land of Emilia-Romagna.
In the twelfth century, Benedictine and Cistercian monks from Parma and Reggio Emilia were the first to pioneer what would become the technique used to make Parmigiano Reggiano, taking advantage of the abundance of milk they had available to make a hard cheese that was cooked in furnaces.
Still to this day, PDO Parmigiano Reggiano, which contains cow's milk, is cooked before being salted and is then left to ripen on wooden tables. This maturation process has to be slow, and can take anything from 12 months to as many 24 months and more.
At the end of the ripening process, the rind on the wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano is fire-branded with the characteristic stamp. Controlling the quality of these wheels is the responsibility of the Consorzio del Parmigiano-Reggiano consortium, which groups together all the dairies that make this prized cheese.
Want to see for yourself what goes into making Parmigiano Reggiano cheese? Caseifici Aperti provides a great opportunity to do so. This is an open-day event organised by the consortium where you can come face to face with dairy workers and can buy their products on site. If what you're after is more of a tasting experience, head to the Parmigiano Reggiano fair in Casina, not far from Reggio Emilia, where you can sample a variety of dishes featuring this speciality.
PDO Parmigiano Reggiano is naturally lactose-free, protein-rich and high in vitamins and minerals.
This cheese works beautifully with preserves, honey and balsamic vinegar, or crumbled into flakes and sprinkled over a salad. In the Emilia-Romagna region, this mature cheese is traditionally added in its grated form to a whole host of dishes, such as passatelli pasta served in broth.
Parmigiano Reggiano is also delicious eaten on its own, or as an ingredient in desserts or ice cream.