TRADITIONAL FOOD VALLEY PRODUCTS
PARMIGIANO REGGIANO CHEESE
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a part skim milk, grain-style cheese produced from the
milk of cows fed on fodder of mixed grasses or alfalfa. To make the cheese, milk
from both the evening and morning milking is used and is left to settle before
being partially skimmed. During cheese production, the use of anti-fermentation
substances is not allowed.
Each wheel is cylindrical in shape, 18-24 cm high with a diameter of 35-45 cm
and may weigh as much as 24 to 40 Kg.
The traditional production zone of Parmigiano-Reggiano is the provinces of Parma,
Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua (right of the Po River) and Bologna (left of the
Reno River). There is a consortium that oversees the production of the cheese,
created in 1954 from the former Consorzio Volontario Interprovinciale formed in
1934 and it is headquartered in Reggio Emilia.
Martial (64-98 AD) tells us that, in his day, Parmigiano-Reggiano was transported
from the Taro River Valley in the Parma Apennines to La Spezia to be exported.
Thanks to the Benedictine monks, the production of this cheese spread from the
area around the Taro River until it reached the towns and villages along the Enza
River that have been considered historically the original area in which it was
A number of sources offer testimony regarding Parmigiano-Reggiano, starting in
the 13th century, and those that mention it include Fr. Salimbene de Adam, Bartolomeo
Sacchi (known as Platina) and Leandro Alberti of Bologna.
A curious aspect is the use of this cheese for medicinal purposes in early times.
According to documents dating from 1568, it would seem that Pope Paul IV, who
suffered from respiratory ailments, was treated with large doses of Parmesan cheese,
while his successor's cook called it "... the best of all cheeses".
Even the great Giorgio Vasari, speaking of the wedding between Francesco de'
Medici and Giovanna of Austria, describes column bases and capitals of Parmesan
cheese in the banquet areas.
The fame of the cheese was also undoubtedly given a boost by Boccaccio's mention
of it on the eighth day in the third book of his Decameron (1300). The fantastic
description of the Land of Plenty by Maso del Saggio to Calandrino evokes a world
of delectable gluttony: "... and there was a mountain of grated Parmesan, on top
of which were people who did nothing but make macaroni and ravioli and cook them
in capon broth and then they tossed them down below where those who grabbed the
most, ate the most."
During the reign of Philip of Bourbon, husband of the eldest daughter of Louis
XV, travel between France and Italy was common and often accompanied by vast quantities
of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The great Molire, ill and near death, virtually lived
on this cheese which was held by the cultural and political elite to be a valuable
food, rich in important nutritional substances.
Over the centuries, Italian, English, French and German authors have lavished
praise on Parmigiano-Reggiano, but despite this, the cheese has also passed through
some periods of crisis, especially in the early 1820s, when a number of rival
products began to compete.
How it is Made
However, the painstaking, never-changing traditional methods used over the centuries
to make this cheese have guaranteed its supremacy. As the Parmigiano-Reggiano
Consortium states: "Let's say that it is 'unique' in the strictest sense of the
word. In fact, there is no other cheese that could be said to be its equal, even
if there are others which try to imitate it, the only result being to emphasize
the insuperable difference between them. The 'quality' of Parmigiano-Reggiano
cheese is the result of a number of factors, all unduplicatable: milk from the
designated zone, artisan production methods that have remained the same for seven
centuries, natural aging and strict control. The result is superlative flavor
and nutritional energy, intrinsic 'genuineness'.
Another factor that makes Parmigiano- Reggiano unique, because if it were not
genuine, it would not be Parmigiano-Reggiano."
As has already been explained, the production of traditional Parmigiano- Reggiano
takes place in a limited area in the Emilia region and is seasonal, starting on
April 1st and going to November 11th.
Sixteen liters of selected milk is required to make 1 Kg of Parmigiano- Reggiano.
After the fresh milk has been brought to a temperature of 33¡C, veal whey and
rennet are added. The mixture takes 10-15 minutes to coagulate and, before proceeding
to be cooked at 45¡C, the curd is broken up. While continuing to stir the curd,
the temperature continues to be raised until it reaches 55¡C. Following a 30 min.
rest, the mixture is removed using a piece of cheesecloth and set into the "fascere"
(round wooden forms) for a first pressing. A few hours later, the cloth is removed
and the stencils that mark the logo and date on the crust are inserted.
Over the next 25-30 days, the cheese is placed in special brine baths. Then the
aging process (30-90 days) begins, during which the wheels, placed in large storerooms,
are constantly brushed and turned.
The cheeses are aged for at least one year and may continue up to three. Parmigiano-Reggiano
is considered "young" when it was produced during the current or just-concluded
year, "aged" when it is between 18 and 24 months and "very aged" when at least
2 summers have passed (24 to 36 months).
The first "Voluntary Consortium of Reggiano Producers" was founded in 1927, but
it was not until 1951 that a law designed to protect this cheese was drawn up
and passed. In Stresa, during the International Conference, nine countries established
the exclusive names of 22 cheeses, among them Parmigiano-Reggiano, to be used
only by producers in designated areas.
Parmigiano-Reggiano has also been awarded the DOP (protected origin) designation.
Il Parmigiano Reggiano in the kitchen
Its subtle, delicate flavor make this cheese a fundamental ingredient in many
Italian dishes and its easy digestibility and nutritional value render it particularly
suitable for children and athletes.
In cooking, Parmigiano-Reggiano is always used grated to accompany and add flavor
to pasta, fish, meat and vegetable dishes. Only in recent years has it begun to
appear as a regular part of aperitif and cheese courses: the wedges of cheese
chipped off using the characteristic almond-shaped parmesan cheese knife bring
out the aroma of wine and mute the effects of drinks with higher alcohol content.
for more information, visit the web site of the Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium:www.parmigiano-reggiano.it
PROSCIUTTO DI PARMA - PARMA HAM
Parma Ham is made from the leg of a "mature pig", mature referring to the characteristics
of the meat which must have a low water content to limit the amount of salt required.
Sweetness is not the only characteristic that sets this cured meat apart: the
rosy color of its lean meat, its low cholesterol content and high percentage of
unsaturated fatty acids are some of the main features provided by its genetic
structure and the feeding of the pig from which the Parma Ham is made. The presence
of natural anti-oxidizing agents, such as Vitamin F, protect its fat from the
risk of turning rancid.
A whole Parma Ham is easily recognizable by its weight (more than nine kilograms),
the absence of the pig's foot at the end of the leg and the presence of the official
seal of the producer's Consortium branded onto the smooth outer skin following
The well-defined area of production includes the mid- and upper-Val d'Enza, mid-
and upper-Val Parma, the Val Bardea, the Val Parmossa and the mid-Val Baganza.
The term "prosciutto" derives from the Latin "prae exuctus" or "prosciugato",
dried out. Following the destruction of the Cervia saltworks (14th century), Parma
began using salt from the wells in the thermal baths of nearby Salsomaggiore.
Rich in sodium, bromine, sulphur and nitrites, this salt easily impeded the development
of bacteria, leading farmers to preserve all types of meat, from thin slices to
shoulder and leg cuts.
The Gauls and Romans were already familiar with the art of salting and preserving
cured meats and soon prosciutto became known. Testimony regarding the production
of prosciutto appears in the writings of Cato in the second century BC. It is
interesting to note that following the demise of the Longobard Reign (774 AD),
the Magister porcarium enjoyed a social position equal to that of a master craftsman,
and much higher than that of a master shepherd!
Starting in the year 1000, Parma and its countryside began to change physical
appearance. The number of forests were reduced and the land dedicated to cultivating
grain increased. Bread consumption began to replace that of meat, penalized by
the high taxes imposed on those who raised livestock. It was in this period that
prosciutto became a prized foodstuff.
Between the 1200 and 1300s, the Corporation of Butchers which was also involved
in the sale of pork meat, was formed in Parma. In 1459, the "Lardaroli", those
who butchered pigs and salted their meat, officially split off from the Corporation.
However, it is not until the 1500s that we have one of the first mentions of
Parma Ham in a poem by Pomponio Torelli. In it, he mentions the area in which
it is produced (Montechiarugolo, town on the banks of the Enza River), how it
is salted and aged. A number of laws prohibiting the free circulation of pigs
in the city also date from the 1500s, indication that the raising of pigs, including
for domestic and private uses, was quite common in the province. As late as 1803
we have traces of warnings to the citizenry that "circulation" of pigs is prohibited
in the city!
Prosciutto continued its rise to the tables of nobility and aristocrats, until
it appeared at Palazzo Farnese in Rome on the occasion of the visit of Queen Christine
of Sweden to Pope Alexander VII. Famous chefs from the most important Italian
courts set about curing the prosciutto with large amounts of spices and wine,
completely or in part hiding its characteristic flavor. In the original areas
of production, however, expert hands continued to prepare it with the same knowledge
and skill passed down over the centuries
PREPARATION AND AGING Preparation and Aging
The pig used to produce a Parma Ham is raised on high-quality vegetable feed
including corn, barley, bran and often milk whey. The technique used in its production
is based on just three elements: salt, environmental conditions and aging time.
Parma Ham is aged in specialized plants in the hills around Parma and undergoes
continuous checks to assure perfect aging. The aging period ranges from a minimum
of twelve months to eighteen months or more for a "choice prosciutto". In hams
that have been aged for long periods, small white specks may be visible on the
slices caused by the separating out of amino acids, the result of proteolysis.
Parma Ham is "raw", i.e., it has not been cooked using heat, thus offering the
consumer the full benefit of its nutritional qualities with a low caloric content.
In fact, the fat content of the meat itself is less than 5%. In addition, its
low salt content makes it an ideal food for the elderly or those with high blood
The best way to discover all the sweetness and flavor of Parma Ham is to enjoy
it with a good slice of not-overly-salted homemade bread. It may also be paired,
lightly cooked, with cheese and truffles as seen in recipes of recent creation.
The ideal wines for accompanying this meat must be delicate, for example still
or sparkling dry white wines or a light Lambrusco.
for more information, visit the web site of the Parma Ham Consortium: www.prosciuttodiparma.it
Among the traditional products of the Parma plain, the most elegant is undoubtedly
culatello, a prime-cut of Parma ham.
With its characteristic pear shape, an aged culatello weighs approximately 3-1/2
kg and is made from the lean, upper part of the leg of a pig at least 12 months
old (and weighing 200-250 kg), raised in the towns of Zibello, Sissa, Polesine
Parmense, Busseto, Soragna, Roccabianca, San Secondo, Fontanellato, Trecasali
Culatello is the marvelous fruit of the resourcefulness of the farmers of the
Parma lowlands who, not being able to count on the temperate air currents from
the Tyrrhenian Sea used to cure Parma ham, case the rear part of the leg in order
to reduce to a minimum the presence of fat, while eliminating the bone and skin.
Raised on an almost exclusively liquid diet during the first months of life,
these pigs only eat feed composed of bran, acorns and sorghum, mixed with the
whey that is the by-product of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Culatello has been present on the tables of discerning noblemen and gourmands
since 1322. In fact, in that year, it was offered to guests at the wedding feast
of Giovanna of Sanvitale and Count Andrea Rossi.
One of the most esteemed cured meats, its name and image appear in numerous official
historical documents, including the "Calmiero", a detailed price list of products
derived from the pig. From this list we learn that the cost of a "libbra" (Roman
unit of measure equal to 327 gr.) of boneless culatello in 1735 was 19 cents,
while in 1805, the same source informs us, a pound of culatello cost 48 cents.
It has had many admirers over the centuries. The Marquises Pallavicino of Busseto
and Rossi of San Secondo offered them as gifts to their rich and powerful friends,
such as Galeazzo Sforza, the lord of Milan. More recently, the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio
claims that the pieces of this delicacy received from his friend Renato Brozzi
helped his creative - and perhaps even amatory - art. The poet wrote: "Thank
you for that salty, red porky chunk which, without a hint of embarrassment, you
How it is Made
The result of age-old processing techniques, culatello is made from the rear
internal crural muscle of the pig. After leaving it to rest and to have the blood
drain off for 24 hours (heat method used to the west of the Taro River) or for
7-8 days (cold method used to the east of the Taro), the culatello is massaged,
dressed with ground pepper and salted just enough to not alter the natural mildness
of this cured meat. It is then surface-rinsed with white or red wine and tied
with fine string to make the meat more compact. After having rested for 20-24
hours, it is cased in pig bladder, taking care to eliminate any air bubbles, and
then tied with its characteristic exterior lacing.
The aging process may be divided into two periods. The first, which lasts approximately
2-3 months, serves to dry the meat. During this phase, the culatello is hung from
the wooden rafters in the upstairs rooms of farm houses so that the heat from
the stoves in the floors below filters up through the brick flooring without hitting
the meat directly. It is during this period that, strolling through the Parma
lowlands, glimpses of rows of culatello can be seen hanging like ceiling lamps
in old farm houses. Crisp, sunny autumn days (the production period runs from
February to November) dry the meat, although care must be taken not to subject
it directly to air currents.
The second aging period commences with the scrubbing of the white surface that
has formed on the culatello and continues with the transfer of the precious cured
meat into the farm's wine cellar where it is hung from the rafters another 12
to 16 months, depending on it size. Humidity in the cellar must be kept around
70/80¡ and the ideal cellar is one with earth or brick flooring and walls in plaster
Considering that the weight of an aged culatello may be 40 to 50% less than that
of the fresh meat, the average weight of each cased piece cannot be less than
To enjoy culatello at its best, it is crucial to determine if it was aged in
optimal or less-than-perfect conditions. In the first case, all that is required
is to remove the string and casing and trim away approximately a half centimeter
of the outside. In the second case (when there are areas that are excessively
hard), before trimming, the culatello must be wrapped in a tea towel moistened
with water and wine. It is because of the special care taken by farmers in the
preparation of this cured meat and the particular conditions under which the pigs
are raised, that culatello today is very rare and expensive. For this reason,
we suggest slicing it from the center so that the full flavor and aroma of an
entire slice may be enjoyed. Soft yet not flabby, red and transparent as a precious
ruby, each slice has a small star of white fat at is center. In the traditional
"osterie" [taverns] in the Parma plain, culatello is served with a ceremonious
calm, accompanied by curls of fresh butter and homemade bread and a good, sparkling
red wine such as Fortana or Lambrusco.
for more information, visit the web site of the "Strada del Culatello": www.stradadelculatellodizibello.it