Exploring Emilia-Romagna: Parmigiano Reggiano Production Tour at Giansanti di Muzio (Videos & Photos)

It's cool to travel to a new city to enjoy the food it offers, but it's only when you experience the food at the source and in production that you can appreciate its craft.

One of the highlights from our Italy trip was a private tour to Giansanti di Muzio, a small Parmigiano Reggiano producer with only eight total employees and one cheese master. To give you an idea of how small they are, large producers produce hundreds of wheels per day, but Giansanti only produces 6 to 7 wheels of cheese daily - it depends on how much milk their cows produce. 

Don't confuse this cheese with popular imitation cheese "Parmesan", Parmigiano Reggiano is a DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) product, which means to be legally called Parmigiano Reggiano, it must come from the designated region and follow the guidelines of production. It is produced exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and parts of Mantua and Bologna, near the Po River where over four thousand farms exist. The milk is produced by cows fed according to strict regulations, which only allows the use of grass grown only in the place of origin, together with natural animal feed. 

Pale in color and varied yellow tones, Parmigiano Reggiano is known as the "King of Cheeses" for its unique characteristics. It is a purely natural cheese that has a complex, sharp taste that is fruity and nutty with a strong savory flavor and a slightly gritty texture with noticeable crunchy crystals. 

In an hour and a half, our extremely knowledgeable and kind guide Chiara walked us through the magic of how milk gets transformed into cheese from beginning to end.  Did you know that each wheel is handmade? 

Here are a couple of videos I recorded, followed by shots below accompanied with descriptions of the process as explained on the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium website. 

VIDEO: THE PRODUCTION CYCLE - PART 1

VIDEO: THE PRODUCTION CYCLE - PART 2

 

PHOTO TOUR

Every day, the milk from the evening milking is left to rest until morning in large copper vats, where the fatty part spontaneously rises to the surface. This is used for the production of butter. As soon as the whole milk form the morning milking arrives from the farm, the skimmed milk from the night before is poured into the typical bell-shaped copper cauldrons where calf rennet and fermented whey, rich in natural lactic ferments obtained from the processing of the day before, are added. 

Cheesemaster Giorgio is keeping the tradition alive! He's been making Parmigiano Reggiano for over 50 years. 

The milk coagulates in around 10 minutes, and the curd which forms is then broken down into minuscule granules using a traditional tool called spino, which looks like a huge whisk. 

The cooking process which reaches 55 degrees centigrade, after which the cheesy granules sink to the bottom of the cauldron forming a single mass. 

The cheese is cut in half.  Each half will produce one wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. 

The cheese gets wrapped in a typical cloth and is placed in the mold to give it its final wheel shape.

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Each wheel carries proof of its authenticity. After a few hours, a special marking band engraves the month and year of production onto the cheese, as well as its cheese dairy registration number and the dotted inscriptions of "Parmigiano-Reggiano" around the entire cheese wheel. You can use this number to look up the producer of the cheese here: http://www.parmigianoreggiano.com/dairies/ext/CercaCaseifici/default.aspx

The wheels are transferred to these metal forms to give them their distinctive curve and turned over and over again. 

After few days, the Parmigiano Reggiano wheels are immersed in a water and salt-saturated solution. It is a process of salting by absorption which, within less than a month, closes the production cycle and opens the cycle of maturation.

The cheese wheels are laid out in long rows in the silent maturation rooms. The cheese is allowed to rest on wooden tables where the outside of the cheese dries forming a natural crust without being treated in any way and therefore remaining perfectly edible. The story of Parmigiano Reggiano follows the natural rhythm of the seasons:  the minimum maturation time is 12 months, and only at this point can it be decided if each individual cheese is worthy of the name it was given at its birth. 

Every twelve months, the inspectors of the Consortium examine each cheese one by one. These tests are done by tapping the cheese in order to hear the sound it makes, similar to what a stethoscope does. If a cheese passes inspection to meet the requirements of the PDO, a mark is fire-branded onto the individual cheeses. 

The cheese will not be DOP approved if it sounds like it has large air pockets or bubbles, in which case it cannot be called Parmigiano Reggiano; all identifying marks and dotted inscriptions are removed from the cheese. 

At the end of the tour, we had a tasting of all three cheeses produced: 12/24/36-month aged. We loved all three, but ended up purchasing a thick slice of the 24 and 36-month to bring back home with us.  

In addition to Parmigiano Reggiano, Giansanti di Muzio produces butter, yogurt and ricotta.  I really wish we could've tried their butter and ricotta, but it wouldn't have lasted our drive.  The apricot and chestnut yogurt was delicious! 

If you're looking to visit a Parmigiano Reggiano factory, I would highly recommend this one. The cost of the tour at Giansanti di Muzio was 20 euros for both of us, which included a generous tasting of all 12/24/36 month cheeses with a balsamic glaze. This is a fraction of the price compared to agencies offering factory tours at ridiculous prices. These tour groups are no where as intimate of an experience as booking directly with a producer. 

For more information about Giansanti di Muzio, visit their website giansantidimuzio.it or e-mail them directly at parma@giansantidimuzio.it.

You can find other Parmigiano Reggiano producers through the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium website.

A very cheesy photo of us. 

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