When Michael and I were planning our trip to visit the Italian relatives, we had a couple of extra days to do something else while in the country. Furniture fair in Milan? Too expensive. Cinque Terre? Too Rick Steves (Just kidding, Rick. We love you. We’d rather visit when we have more time.). What do you do with only two days?
A Parma ham and cheese tour, of course. We spent a full day visiting a Parmigiano Reggiano factory, a Prosciutto di Parma factory, and a Balsamic producer.
We took so many cheese photos that I’m going to do a post just focusing on this part of the tour. Here is the milk pumping into the factory. Obviously the Sylvester pillow (at left) is an important part of the process.
This small factory is still family-run. The mother, above, oversees the stirring of the proto-cheese.
This giant metal whisk thing breaks the curds up into small chunks.
They use this big wooden paddle (sort of like a giant pizza peel) to lift the solids out of the whey.
This section of fabric has wooden rods attached to two corners. One man holds the rods and uses them to slip the fabric under the cheese while the other man hangs onto the other side.
Once the curds are all gathered up, the father cuts the cheese (heh heh) in half. Each half will produce one wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. The factory churns out eleven wheels of cheese each day–five and a half vats.
Once the cheese solids are cut, they’re separated into their own fabric slings, then the slings are tied onto a board that hovers over the vat.
The whey is siphoned out into tanks, then later transported and fed to pigs.
It takes a team effort to lift each cheese into a tub. The family’s father is on the left, the son is in the middle, and the son’s wife is in the foreground.
The cheeses get transferred to these plastic shapers.
They are carefully smoothed.
They use the mallet to hit the wooden block to tighten the ties around the shapers.
Eventually, the wheels are transferred to these metal shapers that give the wheels their distinctive portly curve.
These plastic strips wrap around the wheels to give them the proper “Parmigiano Reggiano” labeling, including the date they were made.
The wheels sit in these salt baths for a couple of weeks and are rotated regularly. The water is never changed–just topped off.
When someone opens a new Parmigiano Reggiano factory, other manufacturers bring them some of their salty water to get them started.
The cheese wheels are aged for 18-24 months.
The cheese wheels are tested by an inspector who taps them with a little mallet. If they don’t sound quite right, they’ve usually got air bubbles. This doesn’t mean the quality is any less, but the aesthetics aren’t as good. These sub-par wheels are marked with these striations, then sold at a discount. Guess what Michael and I brought home in our luggage (note: we didn’t bring home a whole wheel–just a wedge).
The cheeses are washed regularly, and this is a cheese-washing/polishing machine.
This is the exterior of the factory. At the end of the tour, we tasted hunks of cheese with some tasty wine and balsamic. We bought a wedge of cheese, as well as a special cheese wedge-shaped tupperware box. Seriously, it is the coolest (dorkiest) thing.
We were very pleased with our tour and our guide, which we booked through parmagolosa.it. Stay tuned for Prosciutto di Parma and Balsamic tours.