Simon Johnson Parmigiano Reggiano
The cheeses that bear the Parmigiano Reggiano stamp represent some of the best matured cow's milk cheese on earth. It's time to take a closer look at what makes them so special.
Since its inception in the 1300s, Parmigiano Reggiano has been revered as one of Italy’s true gastronomic treasures. Its golden, crumbly texture and nutty, salty sweet and creamy flavours have for centuries won fans all over the world and gained it a royal reputation as the “King of Cheese.”
One of the reasons for its lofty status is that it is one of the most versatile cheeses in the world; few would dream of having pasta without it, others use it to add layers of umami to roasts, stews and soups, chefs won’t even contemplate a toasted or grilled sandwich without it, while others will simply enjoy it unadulterated with a quality glass of Sparkling, quickly making the world a much better place.
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Like all true artisanal products, passion and dedication drives the creation of this food, and when you get to taste a chunk from the middle of a freshly-split 35kg wheel and its sweet, salty, buttery flavours melt over your tongue, you are left with a clear appreciation for the people who devote their life to this truly unique cheese.
Parmigiano Reggiano hails from the Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy regions of Italy; specifically, the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua. Made from cow’s milk and aged for a minimum of 12 months, in order to carry the Parmagiano Reggiano mark it has to meet strict specifications that range from feed, milk handling, production, storage and ageing. Each wheel can be aged from 12 to 40+ months and is marked with a unique and sequential alphanumeric code that is stamped onto each wheel: it is its identity, which makes it possible to trace its production back to its origins, anytime and anywhere.
Unlike most artisanal cheeses, the production and the maturing of Reggiano are seen as two distinct processes, with the dairies selling the cheese once it’s produced. The process is then overseen by a stagionatore, a person whose sole focus is to guide the cheese through the maturing process. This highly respected position must have intimate knowledge of cheese and how it ages, always paying special attention to the factors that play a part in the overall quality of the cheese.
Provenance, Patience and Experience
With Reggiano, the stagionatore is as important as the cheese maker. A good stagionatore can make a good cheese great, and so the skill of the person selecting and maturing the cheese before they are released for sale brings a guarantee of quality and consistency to the whole picture. In English, we don’t have a word for the person who matures or ages cheese; but stagionatore in Italian means the same as affineur in the world of French cheese.
One family that has been working exclusively with SIMON JOHNSON to supply Australian chefs and customers with the best Reggiano available is the family of Giorgio Cravero. For five generations, they’ve been working with small dairies in the Apennines to access the best cheeses, that they then mature in their purpose-built maturing caves in Bra, just south of Turin.
Generations of Goodness
The Cravero family has been selecting and maturing the very best wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano since 1855, with knowledge handed down from father to son for over 150 years. True Reggiano is produced in a strictly designated area of Northern Italy. Its age and origin are guaranteed, but some cheeses are nonetheless of higher quality than others.
The small “mountain” producers that Cravero work with feed their cows hay all year round and dry fresh grass in the summer – they believe that this consistent feed aids in the health of the animal year round, which also means consistency of quality in the milk, and therefore of the cheese production.
The cheese of this region is uniquely connected with the animals and the land – the flavour of the cheese comes from the local pasture and what the cows forage, leading to the production of a milk that allows the creation of a Parmigiano Reggiano that has a softness or creaminess to the palate and a sweetness to the flavour.
By the time it reaches our stores in Australia it is at least 24 months old. Cravero Reggiano is succulent with a complex flavour profile of light caramel and hints of tropical fruit: very different to the dry – and often bitter – cracked cheeses matured by the large cooperatives.
It has taken decades of partnership and commitment to the best traditional practices for the Cravero name to have become synonymous with extraordinary quality and flavour. The wheels mature naturally in a constant, temperature-controlled environment for an additional 12 months. Even after maturing, good Reggiano must still be moist, soft and sweet. At Cravero, they pay close attention to the changing seasons and work tirelessly to make sure that their customers get products that are worthy of being called the best.
The team at SIMON JOHNSON has nurtured this special relationship with the goal of bringing the best possible Parmigiano Reggiano to Australia and to your table – because there really is no substitute for quality.