Did you grow up in the 80s with that old green can of grated parmesan for your spaghetti? I did. It tasted like salty sawdust and no one got excited about it but what else are you going to put on your pasta?
Oh how far we’ve come.
We tossed the can and started spending lots of money on delicious cheese. And so I was so excited to come to Modena and learn how to make parmigiano reggiano cheese.
Visiting Hombre Farm was particularly special because it’s an organic farm so while there are very strict rules to making parmigiano-reggiano in the region, they also comply to another set of strict organic rules.
Only 12 wheels are produced daily from 6000 litres of milk; the cows listen to classical music while being milked and no humans are allowed in.
I was so excited to jump in and start shooting a video until I realized I would need to be behind a plastic window way above the cheesemakers. That doesn’t really make for exciting footage so I pleaded for them to allow me on the floor.
Sometimes all you need to do is ask.
The two cheesemakers were so accommodating and told my translator that having a pretty girl on the floor was the most excitement they’ve had in ages. Watching them handle the cheese it was clear they had been doing this for years, chatting and laughing while they lifted and manipulated the beast of cheese that would become a wheel.
Oh the glorious smell.
The wheels are taken to salt for 18 days and then they arrive here on the farm to age. Opening the door you’re slapped in the face with an overpowering salty, earthy flavour.
Strolling down the aisles there are wheels at varying ages, some with the marked stamp of approval, date and code as each wheel is tracked by the Protection of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Like prosciutto and balsamic vinegar, parmigiano-reggiano is a DOP product. It represents the land and culture of the region. It can only be produced in Emilia Romagna to be called Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The wheels don’t simply sit and age but are cleaned and checked every 15 days. At 12 months the Consortium assesses the cheese with the traditional “tap test” and if it passes it can be called Parmigiano-Reggiano. But most of the cheese at Hombre stays much longer, they volunteer for a second test at 18 months to receive an additional grade of quality and sell the wheels at 24 months and 36 months.
I half-joked about taking a wheel home to find out each one weighs 80 pounds for a price of 700 Euro. Instead I left with 30 Euro worth of the 36 months “stravecchio”not knowing if I can clear it through customs, we may have to keep that our secret. If you’re still eating that green can of grated parmesan you have no idea what you’re missing.