Probably the most famous of all Italian cheeses is Parmigiano reggiano, a hard, granular cheese native to the Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modina, Bologna, and Mantua provinces. Parmigiano reggiano is made from raw cow�s milk � whole milk and skim milk � which is then pumped into copper-lined vats. After the milk is heated and cooled producing the whey, The cheese is put into a stainless steel round form that is pulled tight with a spring powered buckle so the cheese retains it wheel shape. After a few days, the cheese is soaked in a brine bath for 20 days to absorb the salt. This salt is the only additive throughout the entire process.
After 12 months, the cheese is tested by a master grader whose only tools are a hammer and sound. By lightly tapping the wheel at various points, the master is able to assess any undesirable cracks or malformations and can thus mark the cheese as a lower-grade Parmigiano reggiano cheese. Ideally, the cheese is aged for 24-months; this produces the highest quality � and most expensive � Parmigiano. But a good cheese is aged 18 to 24 months.
Some other interesting facts:
— In olden days, because of the large amount of high quality milk used to produce the cheese, Parmigiano reggiano was considered to be a product of quality and luxury and prestige. Wheels of this cheese were used as a gift to give royalty that passed through their region as a specialty item.
— In 1543 a writer noted during a casual dinner with friends that the meal did not consist of any meat at all. There were six plates of Parmigiano cheese and fresh fruit. The cheese was the main course!
— The Maramotti family, who own the Italian fashion chain MaxMara, is the largest stockholder in a bank in Reggio-Emilia. They still hold about 300,000 wheels of Parmigiano reggiano cheese in their vaults!
One of my favorite Parmigiano reggiano recipes from my book, The Basic Art of Italian Cooking is Risotto Parmigiana (pg. 31).
14 ozs. (400 grams) carnaroli or Arborio rice
1 small onion finely chopped
4 ozs. (approx. 115 grams) grated Parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 Tbsp. (approx. 15 grams) butter
4 Tbsp. (approx. 59 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (approx. 235 mL) chicken or vegetable broth
1 glass of dry white wine
Salt to taste
In a large frying pan, combine the EVOO and broth. Saut� the onion in this mixture. When the onion is golden, add the rice and allow the rice to absorb the color. ? Add the white wine to the broth slowly. Stir, all the while keeping the stove on low heat. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the rice is al dente (soft). Add the rest of the butter and half of the grated cheese and stir gently.
Serve individually and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Serve hot.
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