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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find other Parmigiano Reggiano producers through the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium website.