98 fresh www.fresh-magazine.co.uk A Cheese By Any Other Name . . . On 26th February 2008, the European Court of Justice finally spoke: from now on only cheeses qualifying for the Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) “Parmigiano Reggiano” can be sold as Parmesan. Nikki Haynes travels to Italy to find out more . . . PHOTOGRAPHY STEVE LEE | RECIPES SUE ASHWORTH

F35 Parmigiano Reggiano

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Page 1: F35 Parmigiano Reggiano

98 fresh www.fresh-magazine.co.uk

A Cheese By Any Other Name . . .

On 26th February 2008, the European Court of Justice finally spoke: from now on only cheeses qualifying for the Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) “Parmigiano Reggiano” can be sold as Parmesan. Nikki Haynes travels to Italy to find out more . . . PHOTOGRAPHY STEVE LEE | RECIPES SUE ASHWORTH

Page 2: F35 Parmigiano Reggiano

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PARMESAN cheese has been made for centuries in the northern Italian province of Reggio Emila, although it wasn’t until relatively recently that

this versatile cheese came to the attention of chefs further afield. It was the height of sophistication in the UK in the 1970s when Italian cooking meant “Spag Bol” with some dried Parmesan sprinkled over the top. Today we’re an international society with far more sophisticated tastes; Parmesan doesn’t just have to come in tubs like dust, if you’re hungry enough you could buy a whole 39kg wheel. And as we’re becoming more food savvy, we’re also becoming more protective over traditional products with a long history in a specific region. One of the most recent to gain the EU’s protection in the form of a PDO award is Parmigiano Reggiano – the original, and now the only, Parmesan cheese.

Something specialTo say this cheese holds true to ancient traditions is something of an understatement. The Parmigiano Reggiano experts say that the way it’s made today is pretty much as it was nine centuries ago, bar the technological improvements. It has the same ingredients, the same processing techniques and is still made with the same artisanal care. There are 429 dairies making Parmigiano Reggiano, and all have to be in the specific provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua on the right bank of the River Po and Bologna on the left side of the river Reno. This is not just a product that the cheesemakers are proud of, it’s a labour of love, a passion and a way of life. Each dairy has a cheesemaster or Casaro: traditionally it was a family business where the skills and secrets were handed down from father to son, but these days, because the work is so intensive, a lot of the younger generations aren’t interested in carrying it on. Every day the raw milk is processed by the cheesemasters with natural ferments (no additives) created by the previous day’s whey. If they stopped for just one day they wouldn’t be able to continue this natural process and all the heritage and tradition would be lost. So they have to work 365 days a year, and if the cheesemaster has no support then there are no days off for him, including birthdays, births or even Christmas. They work long days too – from 5am–12pm and 3.30–8pm – so most live onsite. Increasingly the dairies are now having to source workers from other countries who are willing to take on the arduous job.

The cheese is made from fresh whole milk that has been milked that morning, and naturally skimmed milk. Once the curd has formed, separated and been left to settle, the cheese is collected in a large piece of muslin to form a ball-like shape, then it’s cut into two (known as twins) and placed in moulds.

Making the cutWhilst in the moulds the cheeses are branded with the familiar dotted Parmigiano Reggiano markings. Not only does this distinctive design help consumers recognise the cheese, but it also tells you everything you need to know about its origins: the dairy’s identification number and the month and year of production are all on there. The cheese is then placed into a brine bath for 20–22 days, before being sent to the ageing rooms for at least a year. In 1934 the Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano (Consortium) was set up to govern the areas of production, the cheesemaking process, animal management, markings and sales – everything to ensure the quality of the cheese. At 12 months the Consortium inspects every single cheese. They test it using only a hammer and their ear; by tapping at various points on the wheel, they can tell if there are any undesirable cracks and voids. If the Consortium does detect some minor flaws they will score the cheese with horizontal lines across the rind and it cannot be sold. If there are lots of faults the cheese’s top layer is removed to ensure that it won’t be sold in pieces: usually this cheese is used in cartons of grated Parmesan. The cheeses that pass the Consortium’s tests are heat branded on the rind with the Consortium’s oval logo. Most Parmigiano Reggiano is eaten in Italy: in 2007 only 18 per cent was exported.

Three stages of maturityWhen you buy Parmigiano Reggiano there are four maturation stages to look out for, each giving you a different flavour, taste and aroma: at 12 months it has a bouncy texture very much like Emmental, at 18 months it’s given a red seal and the taste is quite sweet, milky, fruity and nutty (the Italians usually have this with an aperitif of dry white wine, or you could pair it with fresh fruit such as pears or apples) and at 22 months it’s given the silver seal. This cheese has a more distinctive taste and a texture that you’d expect from Parmesan – crumbly and slightly grainy. Still quite mild, but with a more rounded flavour, it’s great accompanied by a well structured red wine and served with dried fruit such as prunes

or figs. Over 30 months it’s given a gold seal and becomes known as stravecchio. This cheese has the highest nutritional value and a much drier, crumbly and grainy texture. Its strong, distinctive flavour goes well with a full-bodied reds or dessert wines: for a summer treat serve it with honey and walnuts. Although you can buy older cheeses, the experts say that a cheese older than three years is past its best.

The one and onlyA PDO always upsets some people, especially those cheesemakers who are just outside the regulated area of production. However, understanding how much care goes into the product, from the milk, to the cheesemasters, to the Consortium you can understand why Parmeggiano Reggiano stood out as the one and only Parmesan cheese.

For further information and some great recipes, visit www.parmigiano-reggiano.it

The Weird World of Parmigiano Reggiano

In 1348 it was praised in the writings of Boccaccio; in the Decameron, he talks of a mountain made completely of Parmigiano to accompany macaroni and ravioli.

Samuel Pepys famously buried his precious wheel of Parmesan during the Great Fire of London of 1666 to preserve it from the flames.

Parmigiano Reggiano is the first food eaten in outer space that was not first specially engineered to suit a space diet.

Parmigiano Reggiano has the second highest concentration of umami. Umami is known as the fifth taste alongside sweet, sour, salt and bitter. This concept was developed in 1908 by a Japanese professor who was interested in the delicious flavour that a traditional Japanese seaweed broth gave to anything it was cooked with. He discovered that seaweed broth, or rather the giant kelp that’s in it, has a high amount of glutamic acid – naturally occurring MSG – which gives food a rich savoury taste and so he named this new flavour umami which happens to be Japanese for deliciousness.

In 1568 Bartolomeo Scappi, a Dominican monk under Pope Pius V, wrote a cookbook that made the claim that Parmesan was the best cheese on earth!

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100 fresh www.fresh-magazine.co.uk

This special fish dish makes a superb main course for a dinner party – yet it is so simple to prepare.

Serves 4

75g / 3oz Parmigiano Reggiano2tbsp olive oil4 x 150–175g / 5–6oz Pacific/ farmed Atlantic halibut fillets100g / 4oz cooked and peeled prawns, thawed if frozen6 small sprigs lemon thyme¼pt double cream6tbsp dry white wineSalt and ground white pepper

1Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese finely and

and set to one side until you are ready to use it.

2 Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the halibut

fillets. Cook them over a medium heat for 5–6 mins, turning them once. Add the prawns and two sprigs of lemon thyme and cook for a further 2 mins. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste.

3Meanwhile, make the sauce. Put the cream into

a saucepan and heat gently, whisking with a small whisk. Add the white wine, then the grated Parmigiano Reggiano, stirring until melted and smooth.

4 Serve the fish with the prawns, pour the sauce

on top and garnish with the remaining thyme sprigs.

Halibut and Prawns with Lemon Thyme & Parmigiano Reggiano Cream Sauce

These wonderfully light savoury muffins are perfect for breakfast or brunch – or just enjoy them as a snack when you’re feeling peckish.

Makes 8

75g / 3oz Parmigiano Reggiano250g / 9oz plain flour½tsp salt1tbsp baking powder1tsp caster sugar100g / 4oz spinach, cooked, cooled and chopped1 free-range egg240ml / 8fl oz milk90ml / 3fl oz vegetable oil

1Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano finely and set aside.

2 Preheat the oven to 190°C / gas 5. Put 8 paper muffin

cases into a muffin pan, or you can line them with squares of greaseproof paper.

3Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large mixing

bowl. Stir in the sugar, about two-thirds of the Parmigiano Reggiano and the spinach. In a large jug beat together the egg, milk and vegetable oil.

4 Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients. Using

a metal spoon, stir until just combined. You must not beat this mixture or stir it too much. It should be quite lumpy, but there should be no traces of dry flour.

5 Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and sprinkle the

remaining Parmigiano Reggiano over the top. Bake for 20–25 mins until well risen and golden. Serve whilst still warm.

Press out the excess water from the cooked spinach

with your hands or use the back of a spoon. If you’re wondering why the recipe includes sugar, this is because it improves the texture and flavour of the muffins.

Spinach & Parmigiano Reggiano Muffins

Use any firm fillets of fish in place of halibut – salmon or

monkfish would work well too.

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This poached pear dessert is so simple to make, yet it tastes utterly divine. It’s not too sweet and the Parmigiano Reggiano and ricotta filling complements the pears perfectly.

Serves 4

150g / 5oz Parmigiano Reggiano150g / 5oz ricotta cheese6 pears (not too ripe), peeled, halved and cored600ml / 1pt medium white wine50g / 2oz caster sugarStrip of lemon zestGenerous pinch of saffron2 star anise

1Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano very finely.

2 Mix together the Parmigiano Reggiano and ricotta cheese

thoroughly. Cover and set to one side until ready to serve.

3Put the pears, wine and sugar into a saucepan with

the lemon zest, saffron and star anise. Heat and simmer very gently for about 20 mins, until the pears are tender. Cool them until barely warm.

4 Share out the pears, with some of the flavoured syrup,

between four serving bowls. Spoon the cheese mixture onto them and serve.

The pears can be made up to three days in advance,

then covered and chilled until required. Warm them slightly before serving to enjoy them at their best.

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This salad is relatively filling so savour the fantastic flavours as a main course.

Serves 4

4 firm pears, peeled570ml / 1pt red wine25g / 1oz caster sugar1 bunch watercressHandful of baby spinach1 head chicory, broken into separate leaves450g / 1lb rump steak4tbsp olive oil175g / 6oz Parmigiano Reggiano chunks2tbsp balsamic vinegarFreshly ground black pepper

1Put the whole pears into a saucepan with the wine and

sugar. Heat and simmer gently without a lid, turning the pears from time to time, until they are tender. Carefully lift the pears from the reduced liquid and leave them to cool.

2 Share the watercress, spinach and chicory between four

serving plates or bowls.

3Preheat a char-grill pan or heavy-based frying pan.

Brush the rump steak with 1 tbsp olive oil, then char-grill or fry it over a high heat for about 2–3 mins on each side. Remove from the pan, cover with foil and leave to rest for 5 mins.

4 Cut the pears into quarters, removing the core. Arrange

one pear on each salad. Slice the beef with a sharp knife, then share between the portions. Add the chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the salads along with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Serve, sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

If possible, use a specially designed Parmigiano Reggiano

knife to break small chunks of the cheese from a large wedge, as it can be very hard. The uneven pieces will help you to appreciate the unique texture and flavour of the cheese.

Rare Beef Salad with Watercress, Chicory, Pear & Parmigiano Reggiano

Saffron Poached Pears with Parmigiano Reggiano