Monday, January 16, 2012

The Merritt's Visit Italy: Parma

               On Monday the boys woke up around 4:30 AM to watch the last half of the Cowboys game and Susan and I woke up around 5 AM to get ready to go to Parma!!!! We left Vicenza at 6 AM to get there by 8 AM. We had our own personal Parmigianno Regianno Dairy tour. It was so worth getting up at 5 for! It was so cool!

Real Parmigiano Reggiano is produced exclusively in the provinces around Parma. It is completely natural with no additives or preservatives. 

These are the tanks of cow's milk brought in every morning. There are 2 deliveries each day. One in the morning and one in evening.

This is where the milk that comes in during the afternoon goes before it drains into the cauldrons. Because the cows have been eating all day there is more fat in the milk. So as the milk sits in these long metal pans the cream separates from the milk and they drain the milk off into the cauldron. They don't have to do this with the morning milk because the cows have not eaten at night and there is no fat in their milk. (The picture looks a little hazy because it was steamy in the room.)

The milk was then pumped into these copper cauldrons. It takes 550 liters or about 145 gallons of milk to make one wheel of cheese.

They then add whey and an enzyme that cause the milk to coagulate.

I was a little concerned when I looked into the cauldron of milk and there were about a dozen little gnats or flies! They come into the dairy because they are looking for warmth. And they found it in a big o' bowl of milk! This is the guy getting the bugs out of the milk. 

This is the guy checking the milk to see if it is ready to turn the "mixer" on. This process of knowing when it is ready is all done by hand which is pretty amazing in this day and age.

They start the "mixer"which breaks down all the granules. Here he is checking with his hands to see if it is ready. After the milk reaches 55 degrees C the cheesy granules start to sink to the bottom and form one large cheesy mass.

After resting for 30  minutes, the men work together to get the hunk of cheese into the cheese cloth. One wheel of cheese weighs almost 86 pounds!

The large hunk is then cut into two.

They let us taste the cheese in this form. It tasted like milk and was a little rubbery.

The cheese is placed in these molds which give it is final shape. These plastic cylinders can be tightened. This helps extract the excess whey from the cheese.

This special marking band is put around the cheese which labels it with the month and year of production, the dairy registration number, and inscription of Parmigiano Reggiano.

The cheese is then put in these metal molds.

After a few days of sitting, the cheese is immersed in a water and salt solution. The whey is extracted out and the salt moves in.

These hunks of cheese have been under for a few weeks and are now drying.

Can you see the cheese in the salt water?

The cheese then sits in a temperature controlled room.

And then finally it is placed in long rows in the maturation room. It is on these wooden shelves that the cheese forms a natural crust or what we call the rind. 

So much cheesy goodness!

The minimum maturation time is one year! 

The wheels of cheese must be brushed and turned over continually during this maturation period. They have this really cool machine which does this job for them. 

Here is a video of it in action.

After a year, experts of the Consortium, inspect each cheese one by one! I call them pro cheese knockers because they use a tool similar to the little hammer that Taylor has in his hand and they hit the cheese all around it and listen to the sound the cheese makes. The sound of the cheese tells them if it is good, or if there are air pockets inside.

If it is not perfect then they mark it with lines around the cheese, but it is still edible. It is called Mezzano…the second class Parmigiano Reggiano.

Steve found a wheel of cheese that was made on his birthday last year!

And now we get to taste test!

We bought 1 kilo of cheese and had it vacuumed packed into two slices. We already opened it and have been using it in our meals. I wish we had gotten more now!! It is so yummy!

For those of you out there eating Kraft Parmesan cheese…it is not real!!!! Our tour guide who is a professional cheese taster and member of the Consortium said that over half of the dairy's profit went to fighting cheese makers in court for producing cheese with the name Parmigiano Reggiano on it. Their largest problem country…the U.S. of A. Unless I can ship several kilos of cheese back home with me, I'm afraid I will have to eventually buy this Kraft look alike again some day. Sigh.

After our cheese adventure we walked around the small town of Parma. It was pretty cold and a little rainy, so we saw what there was to see, ate lunch at a yummy little place and drove back home. Definitely a trip worth getting up at 5 for!


  1. Hi Sweetie,

    Your mother in law is my former sister in law :) She told me about this site and I love it!
    I was married to Susan's brother Trent many years ago!

    So happy to meet you ...I will be following you and praying for you and Taylor!

    1. Hey Jo!
      Yes, I remember Susan talking about you! Thank you for following us and thank you for the prayers!! :)