Toronto, Canada, and Modena, Italy:
Continued from home page
October 19, 2012:
Getting to know the king of cheese
The trip to Caseificio Santa Rita, a half-hour’s drive from the agriturismo (if you don’t count our missed turn), meant skipping breakfast, a decision not made lightly: Emanuela is a wonderful cook. (Breakfast included her homemade breads, jams, and crostate – fruit tarts; the pasta course at each night’s dinner featured fettucini, or ravioli, or another fresh pasta that she had made from scratch that afternoon.)
Our guide, Cinzia Rosi, with a wheel of Santa Rita
Parmigiano Reggiano that started life in October 1995.
But the morning milk arrived at the dairy by 7, and if we wanted to see the cheese-making process from the beginning, we had to be there.
We were met by Cinzia Rosi: She and her husband are members of the cooperative, and their farm is just a stone’s throw from the dairy. All the milk for Santa Rita’s organic Parmigiano Reggiano comes from farms within a 3 or 4 km radius – less stress on the milk when it doesn’t have to travel far, Cinzia explained, which makes for better cheese. She no doubt got the job of showing us around because she spoke excellent English, but she also knows her cheese – not least because she and her husband own a herd of a declining breed called the vacca bianca modenese, the white cow of Modena. Among other virtues, these cows produce milk that makes excellent Parmigiano Reggiano. After the day’s cheese-making was finished, we swung by the Rosi farm to see them. Munching away on grass, Anna, Maria, and the rest of the girls (they all had names) looked as clean and contented as Elsie the cartoon cow.
Throughout the morning, I was struck by how much care goes into the making of this cheese, to maintain its quality and tradition. I’ll let Steve’s photos tell the story.
Since the milk for the cheese has to be fresh – never refrigerated – the cooperative makes cheese 365 days a year.
The cheesemakers use their fingers to check the formation of the curd.
Here, the cheesemaker uses a tool called a spino to cut the curd into very small pieces. The cauldron contains 1000 litres of steam-heated milk .
After a half-hour cafe break at a bar in the village of Pompeano to allow the curd to settle and coalesce into a mass, the nascent cheese is ready to be gathered in cheesecloth…
…and sliced in two. Each 1000-litre vat of milk yields two wheels of Parmigiano.
The whey that remains in the vat is used to make ricotta or is fed to the local pigs…which makes for great prosciutto.
The cheesecloth-covered balls rest in plastic molds with a weight on top for a day to drain, then…
…surrounded with a plastic collar that imprints the cheese with information about its provenance. As a result, the cooperative knows where the milk for each cheese came from, and when. Then the cheeses are moved to a sea-salt bath – sea salt is a natural preservative – for 18 days.
Then it's off to Santa Rita's aging room, where some 4,000 wheels rest on floor-to-ceiling shelves. The younger cheeses have a lighter, more yellowy colour....
...as they age, they take on a warm brown hue.
By law, Parmigiano Reggiano, must be aged at least 1 year (some, like this one, much longer). After a year, the cheese is inspected by the consortium that regulates its production. Wheels that pass are given a certifying brand.
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At the end of our visit, samples of 5 different Parmigiano Reggiano are laid out for us to taste, aged for various lengths of time (one sample, for 118 months), including two made from milk from Cinzia and her husband's Modenese white cows. They were all incredible -- a revelation. But the type we bought was the 36-month-old Parmigiano from Cinzia's cows. Yes, even we could taste the difference.