Three ingredients and the wise gestures of 1000 years ago
REGGIANA BREED MILK, SALT AND RENNET: THIS IS HOW WE MAKE THE “KING OF CHEESES”
The Red Cows Parmigiano-Reggiano is produced with the milk delivered by the partner breedings twice a day. One milking is in the early morning, the second in the evening, after 12 hours. So the delivery is during the coolest hours in order to avoid the risk of unwanted fermentation. The milk of the Red Cows that arrives at the cheese factory in the evening is placed in large vats, where it develops the milk ferments and the fat, during the night, rises spontaneously to the surface, bringing up the impurities. It is the phase of the surfacing.
The morning after the fat in excess is separated and used for the production of the butter. When it is the moment to fill the cauldron, the cheese maker pours the skimmed milk of the evening, taken from the vats, with the whole milk of the milking just arrived.
The two milks, conveniently filtered, fill the typical bell-shaped copper cauldrons, that can contain about eleven quintals, enough for the production of two wheels. To get only one kilo of matured Red Cows cheese are necessary about 14 litres of milk.
Cooking in copper boilers
In the cavity of the copper cauldrons steam flows: from the beginning the temperature rises to 20° to prepare the mix of milks to receive the ferments, obtained from the processing of the day before. It is added the right dose of bacteria, very important during the ageing process; reproducing from the beginning they will transform the milk sugar in lactic acid: the ph decreases. It is a very important phase to help the coagulation and prevent in the next curd the producing of unwanted microbes, that don’t tolerate the acidity.
From generation to generation
The milk acidified in that way is warmed up a little bit more up to simulate the temperature of the calf stomach (33 – 34° C): now the rennet is added, a small quantity of white powder containing salt and rennin, that is the enzyme which digests the milk proteins in the stomach of the calf. You stop stirring the liquid: it seems very quiet, but inside the cauldorn in ten minutes a lot of changes occur. It happens the coagulation: the proteins, undermined by the rennin and by the acidity, join together blocking the fat cells. That phase is quite imperceptible and the chesse maker judges with the fingers back: the curd has the consistency of a gel and fills all the space before filled by the milk.
It is the moment of the breakage of the curd or “spinatura”. This word comes from the past when it was used a hawthorn branch, later it has been substituted with a tool called “spino” made by a long beam with wiry at the end like a ball.
The cheese maker gently cuts the curd in big slices, being careful not to scatter the fat inside, then with strong movements he breaks down the mass into small pieces like rice seeds. That is to separate the curd (semisolid) from the whey (liquid). Every granules, mixed by a motorized tool, can give away all the water that have still inside.
Always stirring, the cheese can be cooked, in a characteristic way in order to select with the heat the milk bacteria, very important during the next ageing. It happens at 55 – 56° C.
Till the Fifties the cooking was made with the fire under the cauldron, the young helpers of the cheese maker were in charge to add wood under the cauldron, so they were called “sotcaldèra” in dialect (under the cauldron).
The skill of the master Casaro
A the right deydration of the granules, the cheese maker stops immediately the stirring and the heat. The heavy granules of the curd fall down and sink on the bottom of the cauldron, covered by the whey mass that until then contained them. In this phase the granules join spontaneously together. They rest on the bottom for about one hour so they can give away the whey in excess.
With ability and with the help of a permeable hemp cloth and a wooden shovel the cheese maker wrapped the curd in the cloth and let it rest in the hot whey a little bit. In every cloth there are about 90 kilos of curd: they are enough for two wheels. This is why the curd is cut in two parts and each one, always wrapped in the cloth, is placed in a round wooden mould to give its final shape. Inside this mould the wheel will be periodically turned, in order to help the coming out of the whey in excess. At the end of the first day, taken away the cloth, between the wheel and the mould there is a special marking band which engraves the cheese factory registration number, the month and the year of production, the PDO mark and the typical dotted inscription with the name Parmigiano-Reggiano. A name that can be read on every single piece of cheese with the crust.
To obtain the typical convex shape, the wheel is placed in another metal mould.
On the forth day the wheel is ready to enter into big vats full of a water and salt-satured solution, where it rests for about 20 days, to absorb salt in order to have the right taste and a better conservation. The salt is the only one preservative that can be added to Parmigiano-Reggiano. The others are absolutely not accepted by the regulation. After the immersion in the water and salt solution the wheel comes out. To help the making of the crust and the drying it is placed in the hot room or exposed to the sun rays. It is the last day before the beginning of the maturation period.
Dapprima la stagionatura ha inizio in una cascina attigua al caseificio, dove il formaggio è disposto su scalere, cioè robuste assi in legno.
At first the maturation begins in a farm house near the cheese factory, where the cheese rests on big wooden tables (“scalere”) which are able to support 100 wheels. Later the cheese, examined by the experts of the Consortium of Parmigiano-Reggiano, is moved to a well-controlled maturation storehouse. For the cheese of the Reggiana’s breed this period lasts more than two years. Only then will it receive, after a careful examination of the unchanged quality by the experts of the Red Cows Consortium, the coveted mark of the Red Cows. After this long period of time the cheese will be perfectly matured and will have that taste and colour which are unmatched and characterize it.