The making of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Called the king of cheeses, made following 800 year old recipes, using only local raw cow’s milk, aged for at least 12 months,  this cheese is one of the most delicious foods Italy has to offer.

It not only tastes amazing but is also a very nutritional food, extremely digestible and rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals. It’s production is regulated and made completely naturally with respect to tradition. We can’t get enough of it, grated over pasta, crumbled in salads or enjoyed pure, on a cheese board with honey or balsamic vinegar.

We went to Emilia Romagna, a region that is home to some of the finest gastronomic products  (think Parma Ham, Mortadella, Culatello, Balsamic Vinegar, etc..), to learn more about this extraordinary delicacy.

Like any top quality product it all starts with the ingredients, in this case raw milk, from cows that live in the region and only eat locally grown forage. DSC09900 2The cheese is made using the milk from the evening milking that by resting overnight naturally separates bringing the fatter part to the top. Early in the morning this cream top is skimmed and used to make fresh butter and whole milk from the morning milking is added. The process rigorously happens in large bell-shaped copper cauldrons. Calf rennet and fermented whey, rich in natural lactic ferments, obtained from the processing of the day before, are added. Once the milk coagulates, the curd is broken using a traditional tool called ‘spino’. The liquid solution is heated using open fire and the cheese granules sink to the bottom. After resting for around thirty minutes, the cheese mass is removed, with deft movements, by the cheese maker. Cut into two parts and wrapped in its typical cloth, the cheese is then placed in a mould which will give it its final shape. DSC09418The process is very skill intensive, the cheese makers perform an astonishing precision and perfection in each and every movement. A perfection that can only be achieved by the repetition of tasks, day after day, the precision that only comes after years of experience making the one and only product. IMG_0381.jpgOnce settled, the wheels are immersed for about a month in a brine solution, where the cheese is slowly salted by absorption. After that starts a whole new journey, the ageing process. For at least 1 year the wheels rest on wooden shelves, they are turned and checked upon frequently, taken care of and nurtured with affection. In this time the cheese develops all those exceptional intense and complex flavours, that only time can help achieve. Just like an aged wine or ham, this is where all the magic happens.DSC09437Benito makes parmigiano reggiano 365 days a year. He has been waking up at 4.30 am for over 40 years to do so. He jokes about how cow’s don’t go on holiday, so neither does he. It’s a passion and a tradition, he explains, a devotion that is hard to understand from a distance.

 

 

Making your own pasta is easy

Making fresh pasta is one of our favourite activities, a way to fill up a cold winter afternoon cooking with friends and family. Get your hands dirty and try this simple recipe. All you need is a little time and the eagerness to enjoy a home cooked meal, that will take you all the way back to your Italian memories and fantasies.

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Recipe                                                                                                                                 Yield: 6 people

Ingredients

  • Unbleached, unenriched semolina flour, 200g (approx 7 ounces)
  • Unbleached, unenriched white wheat flour, 200g (approx 7 ounces)
  •  Large pasture raised eggs (70 g) 4

Method
On a clean surface, make a pile out of flour and form a deep well in center. Break the eggs into the well  and beat very gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well, trying not to make the egg spill out of the well. When mixture becomes too thick to mix with a fork, begin kneading using your hands. If flour does not fully incorporate into the dough add one or two tablespoons of water. (Be careful not to add too much!)

Dough is very sticky at the beginning and becomes more elastic and smooth after around 4 minutes of kneading. Once the dough is formed, continue kneading for 3 more minutes to allow the dough to reach its maximum elasticity and firmness. Long kneading is important in order to develop the gluten in the flour and to prevent dough from tearing apart later on. Dust work surface with flour if needed to keep dough from becoming sticky.

Roll dough into a ball shape and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for 20-30 minutes.

The traditional way of rolling out the pasta is by using a simple wood rolling pin, so even if you don’t have a pasta machine don’t be intimidated to make fresh pasta at home. Dust working surface with flour and start rolling dough one piece at a time. After every roll, make a quarter turn and repeat the same movement until you have achieved the desired thickness. (Approximately the thickness of a playing card).

If using a machine to roll out the pasta, make sure to firmly attach it to a clean working surface before you start. Then set the pasta machine at its widest setting – and roll one slice of pasta dough through. Fold the dough into thirds and pass through the machine again. Repeat this process 3 times. Lightly dust both sides of the pasta with a little flour every time you run it through. After 3 times of rolling the dough in the widest setting, click the machine setting down, and pass the dough through several times, starting from the widest setting down to around the narrowest, until reaching the thickness of a playing card.

After achieving the desired thickness it’s time to cut the dough into the desired shape. Make sure to dust dough on both sides so it doesn’t stick to itself.

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For Lasagne – Cut into large sheets (can vary depending on baking dish)
For Tagliolini – Cut the sheets into strips the thickness of a quarter (2mm).
For Pappardelle – Cut the sheets into 0.7 inch (2cm) strips.

When pasta is ready to cook, boil water and add salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes (when the pasta is ready it will float to the top of the surface), drain and toss directly into sauce pan with desired sauce.

Cooking dried pasta, the Italian way

Pasta is Italian’s favourite fast ‘ready’ meal. All you need to do is cook it in boiling water and add it to a sauce, whether you cook your sauce from scratch or find it ready-made.

Good quality pasta takes a little longer to cook, but you will be rewarded with its great flavour and texture. Your attention in cooking this great product is crucial. The average serving of pasta per person is 100g (3 ½ ounces) and an average size pack has five servings.

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For perfect cooking:

  • Boil water in a large pot
  • Add 1 to 3 tablespoons of salt
  • Don’t add oil to water – it is a pointless myth
  • Pour pasta in boiling water (1 quart of water per 100g of pasta more or less)
  • Keep stirring so that it doesn’t stick
  • Cook for the suggested time on pack, but our tip is to always try one before draining, you want to cook it ‘al dente’. Dente means “tooth” in Italian, the texture must be firm and have a bite to it. After you cook pasta regularly, you will just know when it is ready
  • Drain and add to sauce immediately and stir together
  • Eat straight away

Buon Appetito!