Travel eats: Feeding my Parmesan cheese obsession in Italy

September 22, 2014

All about Parmesan cheese | One Hungry Mama

I love cheese: stinky, mild, runny, or sharp, it’s all good with me. In fact, before my older son spent a year off of dairy, I would have been hard pressed to choose a favorite. After being deprived, though, my cheese allegiances became clear. I still love all cheese, but I’d missed some cheeses more than others and Parmesan was number one. Not only did I crave the taste, but I realized just how much I use it. Thankfully, my son can tolerate dairy again—Parmesan, in particular (thanks to a different lactose protein in Italian milk and also that Parmesan is naturally low in the proteins that irritate lactose intolerant tummies)—and just in time for us to tour a Parmesan dairy outside of Bologna, Italy.

Yes, seriously. And it was as amazing as it sounds.

Real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese has a long, fascinating history and is still, to this day, exclusively produced by nearly 400 certified cheese makers in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and parts of the provinces of Mantua and Bologna. Well, imagine my delight when a family trip early this summer took us to Bologna. How could I be near the only, relatively tiny part of the world that produces Parmesan and not visit a dairy?

Parmesan is one of those cheeses that, like butter, makes nearly everything better. I save Parmesan rinds in my freezer to throw into soup like this Kale, Squash & Farro Soup with Chickpeas. I use Parmesan to make breading on chicken or pork cutlets. I grate Parmesan over roasted veggies and stir it into veggie purees and mashes. When the boys were little, Parmesan was my go-to flavor agent. Pureed squash is good. Pureed squash with Parmesan is better. I’ve even topped my morning oatmeal with Parmesan and honey—it’s delicious.

Once my family trip was planned, I reached out to my friends at and the Consortium for Parmigiano Reggiano who were kind enough to arrange a visit to a dairy near where I was staying in Bologna. An early morning visit. Because making the king of cheese starts at the break of dawn, people.


Parmesan dairy tour: Hair nets | One Hungry Mama

Parmesan dairy visit: Hair nets | One Hungry Mama

First, we suited up. Cute, no?


Parmesan dairy visit: Morning milk | One Hungry Mama

Then into the dairy where the milk from the previous evening’s milking is left to rest until morning in large vats. In this time, the fatty part of the milk rises to the surface and is skimmed. Then, the morning milk arrives and is mixed with the skimmed milk from the night before in a copper cauldron where rennet and whey from the cheese making process the day before are added.


Parmesan dairy tour: Stirring curds | One Hungry Mama

Then curds form. If you’ve ever made homemade ricotta, it’s a bit like that.


Parmesan dairy visit: Tying curds | One Hungry Mama
Instead of immediately separating the curds from the whey as you do when making ricotta, the curds are broken down into granules and the whole cauldron is heated. During the heating process, the granules sink to the bottom and form a single mass of cheesy goodness that is artfully coaxed into a massive cheesecloth and lifted out of the cauldron.


Parmesan dairy tour: Curds in form | One Hungry Mama
The cheesecloth wrapped curd mass is transferred to a form. This is the early makings of a wheel of cheese and where the soon-to-be Parmesan will begin the long process of aging.


Parmesan dairy visit: Drained whey | One Hungry Mama

With the curds in a form, the whey is drained from the cauldron and stored for the next day’s production.


Parmesan dairy visit: Consortium marks | One Hungry Mama

Parmesan dairy tour: Date stamp | One Hungry Mama

Parmesan dairy tour: resting cheese | One Hungry Mama

Though it happens on its own, the aging process—when the mass of curds wondrously become Parmigiano Reggiano—is quite complicated. It involves marking the cheese with official codes, stamping it with dates, and monitoring different temperatures at different stages through the process.


Parmesan dairy tour: Parmesan storage | One Hungry Mama

And then, of course, it sits for a long time stacked with lots and lots of other wheels of Parmesan, all aging to perfection. (This room is as heavenly as you’re imagining.)


Parmesan dairy tour: branding Parmesan cheese | One Hungry Mama

When a wheel has aged the minimum number of months to be considered Parmesan, it gets branded. Because Parmesan is bad ass. It can go on the market at that point, but a lot of it sits even longer to get even better.


Parmesan dairy tour: Parmigiano Regianno | One Hungry Mama

When the aging period is officially over, you’re left with a beautiful, nourishing, totally delectable cheese.


Parmesan dairy visit | One Hungry Mama

These two don’t come with purchase.


Parmesan dairy tour: prosecco | One Hungry Mama

But you should buy some Prosecco to go with yours. Even the cheese maker sipped some with us. It was 9:30 in the morning.


Parmesan dairy tour: tools of the trade | One Hungry Mama

I can’t blame him since the next day, he does it all over again, just so we can have the real deal.

If you’re not already a big fan of Parmesan cheese the way that I am, I hope that you are now. And, please: nothing in a green bottle that can live on an unrefrigerated shelf for months. That’s not real Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s not even real natural cheese. I know that Parmesan can feel like a splurge, but a little bit goes a long way. And if you invest in a big hunk, it’ll last a long time. Buying it pre-grated will cost more for less.

If you love Parmigiano (and really, who doesn’t?), be sure to celebrate Parmigiano Reggiano Night on October 25 using the free Parmigiano Reggiano app. This app will allow you to be part of a global dinner party celebrating the king of cheese. Don’t miss out on the fun, sign up for the app today! Here are a few recipes to get you in the mood. Enjoy! xo

OneHungryMama Parmesan Mashed Cauliflower

Parmesan Mashed Cauliflower

Butternut Squash with Honey, Lemon and Parmesan | One Hungry Mama





Butternut Squash with Honey, Lemon, and Parmesan






Tarragon and Parmesan crusted Pork Paillard | One Hungry Mama

Tarragon and Parmesan Pork Paillard






Roasted Broccolini with Spinach Parmesan Polenta | One Hungry Mama

Photo: Food Network

Roasted Broccolini with Spinach Parmesan Polenta







This post is not part of a paid sponsorship. I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with the folks at who were kind enough to help me organize a tour of a Parmesan dairy through their contacts at the Consortium for Parmigiano Reggiano. Though I did not agree to necessarily write about my visit in exchange for the tour, I’m happy to share it—and information about real Parmigiano Reggiano—with you. It was truly a magical experience for this foodie nerd and her family, and an important reminder of how powerful it is to connect with how our food is grown and made. If nothing else, I hope that this encourages you to buy real cheese and support dairy farmers who are struggling to make quality, all natural products to keep our food supply healthy and, above all, naturally delicious.

2 Responses

  1. You have a wonderful taste! This cheese can change the taste of every dish. It is absolutely delicious!

  2. I’m giving this recipe 5 stars for the way it turned out after my modifications, without them I doubt it would have been as good.

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