Jeff and I were married this past July, and we served gelato for dessert, and have a wheel of parmigiano-reggiano for our "wedding cake". So it is only fitting that we spent part of our Italian honeymoon on a parmgiano-reggiano farm, Country House Leoni. Not only did we have a spectacular tour of the facilities, but our breakfasts also incorporated all things made on the farm -fresh milk, butter, jam, honey, and eggs. The guest house is where the cows are kept; the tour of the cheese-making process is about a fifteen minute drive from the guest house....at an Italian pace of course!
The farmers begin at 7am, boiling and pasteurizing the milk on large rectangular stainless steel basins, before placing it in coppers basins. Our tour started at 10am when the milk and curds had already been transferred to the copper basins. Each basin will make two wheels of cheese. The milk stays there until the curds separate. The cheese makers collect the curds in large cheese cloths. This drains a bit and then the amount of curd is cut in half. Each half will become a wheel of parmigiano. I tasted a bit of the milky curd; it was very rubbery and bland. Parmigiano's saltiness comes from being cured in a bath of salt later on. These two pieces of curd then sit in separate cheesecloths and hang from a stick to drain for awhile.
Here the cheese maker's are collecting and dividing the curds to put them into the characteristic parmigiano mould:
On the left hand side you can see the stainless steel tables where the milk is boiled:
Then, the cheese is placed in a plastic mould, and is given a nice salty bath. The cheese makers move it into a metal mold, which gives the cheese some of the characteristic markings. These markings are carefully created by the Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium, and updated frequently. Sometimes the markings are copied and essentially stolen, because the parmigiano process must be strictly controlled to be called parmigiano-reggiano.
Soon we went to my favourite room in the entire world! It was filled with wheel after wheel of parmigiano. The wheels of cheese are aged on shelves of cedar. A machine frequently turns the wheels of parmigiano. In this room, the wheels must sit for at least one year and essentially sweat. Then the inspector comes and taps with a hammer. Thirty percent of the wheels don't make the cut! All wheels are aged at least one year, but it can be more.
Row upon row of parmigiano. I cannot describe how wonderful this room smelled; very unusually spectacular. It was like eating parmigiano without the taste!
A close-up of the beautiful markings which can only be placed on real parmigiano-reggiano. The markings are strictly controlled, and indicative of each farm.
These lucky pigs, at a separate barn on the property, will become beautiful prosciutto di parma. I insist they are very lucky pigs, as they are fed the leftover milk from the cheese making process.
Now for the tasting! Back at Country House Leoni, we were given as much parmigiano as we could eat...well there was a lot of cheese, and not too many of us on the tour. Lucky for us! All of the cheese was cut with either an almond shaped knife or a straight blade which we would love to have ourselves. The cheese was served with honey, syrupy balsamico, and Lambrusco.
Cinzia and Lola preparing the feast. They were our wonderful hostesses at Country House Leoni, and tour guides for the morning . The tour was ten Euro each, including the lunch.