Ever tasted a great, authentic Parmegiano Reggiano? Lino Balzarini’s variety is truly a wonder in terms of its taste and delicacy, whether it’s classified as “fresco” (matured for less than 18 months), “vecchio” (matured between 18 to 24 months) or even “stravecchio” (matured for over 24 months).
In Italy, Parmesan cheese is considered a very nutritious, natural food, rich in mineral salts and vitamins, that is recommended for children. Outside of Italy, the quality of parmesan is often mediocre, over dry and uninspiring. One good reason to pay a visit to the region of Emilia-Romagna to sample some of these sumptuous varieties! I would recommend an early morning visit to Lino Balzarini’s farm, when the countryside is shrouded in mist and the parmesan making process begins as soon as the fresh, daily milk is delivered.
The most impressive aspect of this cheese making process is seeing how the basic methods have remain unchanged since the 16th century and how the human hand is still essential.
The fresh morning milk is poured into a vat and mixed with the previous day’s skimmed milk. The mixture is then heated in a large copper vat before Lino adds calf’s stomach rennet to begin the fermentation.
Fifteen minutes later, the coagulated milk, known as cagliata, is divided up until it forms little lumps no larger than grains of wheat. All of this is then reheated to separate the cheese from the whey.
Two well built men lift the solid mass, that can weigh up to 60kg, using a large piece of linen. It is then cut in two and placed in a wooden or metal mould. Slight pressure is applied to the cheese to drain off any excess whey and then it’s taken out of the mould.
The rounds of cheese are subsequently printed with the factory brand and production date before being conserved in brine for 3 to 4 weeks.
The parmesan reaches its maturity in a big storage room with wooden shelves that rise to the ceiling at heights of 5 to 10 metres from the ground. The 40kg rounds have to be turned every month during the first six months of maturing, a gruelling job that, fortunately, can now be performed by machines. A parmesan made at the end of autumn should be matured at least until the end of summer, though ideally it should be much longer for the cheese to develop all the nuances of its flavour.
For Lino Balzarini, parmesans reach their full potential after two years of maturation. A cheese can only bear the Parmigiano Reggiano name if it comes from the provinces of Parma, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Mantova or Bologna. Very strict controls are carried out by a consortium using a carrot and stick approach in order to determine whether a round of cheese can receive the approved label. If the cheese is not of satisfactory quality, its rind is marked with a knife (signifying its is second class) or, even worse, it is bleached. Outside of Italy consumers all too often buy these parmesans believing them to be high quality ones!
Società Agricola Montorsi di Lino Balzarini
Via Pomposiana, Modena