Where you come from matters. The relationship between Parmigiano-Reggiano and its area of origin is inescapable. It only comes from Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, to the left of the Reno River, and Mantua to the right of the Po River. 4,000 farms produce milk of exceptional quality from cows fed a healthy, all-natural diet of local grass. Each wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano requires 160 gallons of this milk, which is transformed into cheese by 400 cheese makers. Matured a minimum of 12 months before testing and certification, most wheels are aged 24 months or more.
According to legend, Parmigiano-Reggiano was created in the course of the Middle Ages in Bibbiano, in the province. Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th and 14th centuries, Parmigiano was already very similar to that produced today, which suggests its origins can be traced to far earlier.
It was praised as early as 1348 in the writings of Boccaccio; in the Decameron, he invents ‘a mountain, all of grated Parmesan cheese’, on which ‘dwell folk that do nought else but make macaroni and ravioli, and boil them in capon’s broth, and then throw them down to be scrambled for; and hard by flows a rivulet of Vernaccia, the best that ever was drunk, and never a drop of water therein.
During the Great Fire of London of 1666, Samuel Pepys buried his “Parmazan cheese, as well as his wine and some other things” to preserve them.
In the memoirs of Giacomo Casanova, he remarked that the name “Parmesan” was a misnomer common throughout an “ungrateful” Europe in his time (mid-18th century), as the cheese was produced in the town of Lodi, Lombardy, not Parma. Though Casanova knew his table and claimed in his memoir to have been compiling a (never completed) dictionary of cheeses, his comment has been taken to refer mistakenly to a grana cheese very similar to “Parmigiano”, the Grana Padano, which is produced in the Lodi area.
Our Parma tasting this past week.