How to Make Parmesan Cheese
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
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?
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
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
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?
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
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.
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
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.