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How to Make Parmesan Cheese

Updated on July 4, 2017
Elyn MacInnis profile image

Elyn spent the last 30 years in China, coming home in the summer to cook American food and have fun doing craft projects with her family.

How do they make Parmesan Cheese?

Parmesan cheese is made from raw milk, and good Parmesan is aged for two or more years. It is not a fast process! Here you will find some photos that show the steps of making Parmesan Cheese, from the cow's milk to the final cheese aging on the shelves. I hope you enjoy them!

The cheese making process begins with Flossita, the Parmesan Cow!

PS Do you see the man in the cheese aisle in the middle of the picture? That shows how high the cheese stacks are.

All photos were taken by Charlotte MacInnis. Thank you Char!

Taking a closer look at Flossita - the Parmesan cow

Parmesan cow
Parmesan cow

What breed of cow is used?

Most of the cows in the Parmesan area are Friesians, which are known for being high producers. Doesn't she have a sweet nose?

Do they have a special diet?

They are only allowed to eat grass and hay, and their milk is used raw. The statistics are general, but about 7,000 farms send their milk to the 600 cheese making factories and dairies that produce the cheese.

What happens to the milk?

The milk from the evening milking is allowed to stand overnight so that it separates. The cream is taken off, and the skimmed milk is added to the morning milk that is used to make the cheese.

How much milk does it take to make a wheel of cheese?

They need twenty cows to make one wheel of cheese! Each cow gives 25 kilos of milk a day, on average.

What is "Real" Parmesan Cheese?

Of course, anyone can make a cheese and call it Parmesan. But it isn't the same as the traditional and classical Parmesan cheese, which must meet the following requirements:

Traditional Parmesan must be produced in the Italian Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua and Bologna, by a cheese maker or factory that is a member of the Consorzio Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano, a group of dairies that protect their cheese making process. Cheese makers are apprenticed for 10 - 12 years before they are certified. They follow strict regulations, including only letting their special Parma (Friesan breed) cows eat grass or hay (no silage). The process is strictly regulated.

Want to try the real thing?

First the milk is sent to huge copper vats - How big are they?

copper vat
copper vat

These are bigger than they look. Each vat holds up to 1,200 kg (2,600 pounds) of raw milk, and will make two wheels of cheese. That's big!

Making the Curd

parmesan-reggiano cheese making
parmesan-reggiano cheese making

After the milk is put into the vat-cauldron, it is heated to a little less than body temperature, then starter and rennet is mixed in to form the curd. The mixture is stirred with a paddle while heating to separate the curds and whey, and then the curd settles to the bottom of the vat.

Lifting out the curds

lifting the curd out - cheese making
lifting the curd out - cheese making

If anyone ever tells you you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life


What happens to the whey? - The curds become cheese, but the liquid part?

vacuuming out the whey
vacuuming out the whey

Do you see the silver "vacuum" tube on the right side? The liquid is vacuumed out, frozen, and collected by a pig farm to feed to their pigs. (Have you heard of "Parma Ham?) Nothing is wasted.

Filling the mold - From a blob to a round

molding the cheese
molding the cheese

The curds are rinsed, and then put into a mold to settle into their round shape.

Yes, a photographer was filming that day. See all the protective gear?

What is on the top of the cheese??

The top of the cheese has a disc made of casein that gives each wheel of cheese a code that can be used to individually identify each wheel of cheese. The blue writing tells the dairy that produced it, and the date of production.

Now the cheese gets its salt - A bath in salt brine for almost a month

After it is taken out of the brine, the salt will continue to move into the middle of the wheel as it ages.

Want to hear about it from the real cheese maker? - I love how he talks about the cheese like it is a baby.

parmesan cheese 2005 and 2013
parmesan cheese 2005 and 2013

Have you ever seen a whole round of parmesan cheese?

How do those words and dots get on the outside?

When the cheese is put in the final mold, a plastic sheet with words and dots on it are put between the sides of the molds and the cheese itself, which is still soft enough to receive impressions.

The two cheeses shown here were made in 2005 and 2013. The darker cheese is 8 years old! What does it say? It says: "Parmigiano-Reggiano" of course!

Aging and final inspection

Parmesan-Reggiano cheese has to age before it gets its true flavor, and the minimum is 12 months.

After aging, each wheel will be inspected for flaws using a hammer to tap on the outside so the inspector can hear its sound. It is a bit like tapping a watermelon to see if it is ripe. They can also insert a metal probe into the core to check the interior of the wheel. If flaws are found, the rind is scraped off and the wheel is turned into grated cheese.

The name of the cheese changes the longer it ages.

Regular Parmesano-Reggiano, Minimum aging time: 12 months

Parmigiano-Reggiano Vecchio: 18–24 months

Parmigiano-Reggiano Stravecchio: 24–36 months

Only the top tier cheese makes the grade and receives the esteemed branding.

Branding the cheese

Just like a cow!

Only the top tier cheese gets the official seal. Actually, I wouldn't mind having some of the second tier! I bet it is tasty too.

The Parmesan-Reggiano Brand

Parmesan-Reggiano Brand
Parmesan-Reggiano Brand

Making parmesan cheese with all the details - youtube video - How Parmesan Cheese is Made

This video has the whole story, from the cow to the shop.

Did you know it was so complicated? - Have you ever made cheese?

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    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @ecogranny: Wow - fascinating!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      My parents used to make cheese when I was a child, and this method looks very like the method they used. They filled galvanized wash tubs (Remember ringer washers and wash tubs?) with milk and followed similar steps to what you show here. I remember Mom saying that cheese making, like so many things, is a simple process but requires a lot of patience. I also remember how the cheese made the house smell as the whey drained from the curds over a period of several days.

    • Heartily profile image

      Lucy Bieri 

      5 years ago from Switzerland

      Good to know, not an easy process.Thanks for sharing.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @Lynn Klobuchar: Thank you! I loved the cow too. Makes me feel peaceful.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @DebMartin: You are welcome!

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 

      5 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Yes I did, but I love seeing the photos.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      You really know your stuff. I just like to eat it. Yum. Thanks for the info.

    • profile image

      Lynn Klobuchar 

      5 years ago

      I figured, like many good things, there had to be a step or two. Love the cow. I put it on spaghetti, too, but also on so many more things! it is delicious. Congratulations on Lens of the Day.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @PAINTDRIPS: Thanks Denise. I always knew it was complicated too, but I never knew it was This complicated! Like raising a baby for a year... But so many babies all at once. :-)

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      5 years ago from Fresno CA

      Love these pictures. I knew it was complicated process. But I still enjoy seeing the steps. Thanks and congrats on LotD.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @Heidi Vincent: Isn't that a funny quote? Glad you liked it.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @GuyB LM: Not really. Watch the second video and you will see why.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Yes, but it's worth it!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @HotChristmasGifts: Mozzarella is a faster process than Parmesan. But it is lovely too. The traditional salad with tomato, basil leaves, and mozzarella is truly delicious.

    • HotChristmasGifts profile image


      5 years ago

      Very interesting, loved the pictures. Yesterday, I watched a documentary on how they make mozarella, so it was a nice coincidence to stumble across this lens. I guess I'm feeling a bit cheezy ;-)

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 

      5 years ago from GRENADA

      Congratulations on winning LOTD! I kind of had an idea of the process but you spelled it out here.I LOVE it on spaghetti. I can never have too much cheese. I can easily stop talking to anyone who dares to tell em I put too much cheese on my pasta :)

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Very cool! I will appreciate this cheese more now

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      No, but nice to be educated about one of my favorite cheeses.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Had no idea.

    • jc stone profile image


      5 years ago

      Yes i did

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image


      5 years ago from New York

      Yes I did, but all good things do take work and is a process.

    • GuyB LM profile image

      GuyB LM 

      5 years ago

      is this something a novice can do at home? I've got plenty of time (house arrest)

    • nicenet profile image


      5 years ago

      I'm a novice on this but it's an interesting tutorial.

    • LoriBeninger profile image


      5 years ago

      Fantastic lens - and congratulations on your LotD!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I had no idea and only heard of curds and whey in nursery ryhmes!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @mimibout19: Yes - Little Miss Muffet! Regular people don's make cheese much anymore.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      5 years ago from Colorado

      I had no idea how parmesan cheese was made.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 

      5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Well yes and no. I was familiar with the general cheese making process but finding out the exact method used was fascinating.


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