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WineCountry.it: All you want to know about Italian wine: WineCountry.it Article

Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP and Castelmagno DOP
Staff Writer - November 1, 2009



Introduction
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Here we continue our presentation of Italy's 155 products of Protected Designations of Origin (PDO, or, in Italian, DOP, Denominazione di Origine Protetta) and Protected Geographical Indications (PGI, or IGP in Italian, Indicazione Geografica Protetta).

This month we are presenting two DOP cheeses: Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP, produced in the agricultural plain of the Emilia Romagna region, and which is considered the king of cheeses worldwide, and Castelmagno DOP, a semi-hard cheese from Piedmont, made with cow milk with the addition of a small quantity of sheep and/or goat partially skimmed, produced in Castelmagno, Pradleves, and Monterosso Grana, three municipalities in the province of Cuneo.

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Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP (Emilia Romagna)
Protected Designations of Origin: June 12, 1996

Parmigiano Reggiano
Parmigiano Reggiano DOP

Origins
Historic documents mentioning this very ancient typical cheese are many, let's just quote a literary classic, from the third novella of the eighth day of The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, published in 1348: "... there was a mountain made of grated parmigiano on top of which there were people, who were doing nothing, but making maccheroni and ravioli pasta …".

In the production zone of this cheese there are around 900 caseifici (cheese factories) dedicated to making Parmigiano Reggiano DOP. This number alone guarantees that, to this day, the production of this traditional cheese is is still performed by artisans in the traditional way. To produce one kilogram of Parmigiano-Reggiano it takes 17 liters of milk, technical know-how, expert manual work and lots of time for the ageing, which takes place in special temperature controlled, spaces.

Parmigiano Reggiano durante l'invecchiamento
Parmigiano Reggiano wheels aging in a temperature controlled room

Characteristics of the Product and Production Phases
The Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP is a cooked, granulated cheese, semi-fat, which typically breaks into flakes. It is made with milk produced by cows in perfect health, fed with meadow grass or hay. It is absolutely forbidden to feed them forage stored in silos.

First, when the milk arrives at the factory, it is analyzed, to ascertain its conformity with the norm imposed by the production rules. The cheese is made with milk from two different milkings. The first milk is gathered in the evening, and it is left to rest overnight in tubs, thus a good part of the cream floats to the top naturally. The production cycle includes a lengthy series of phases which culminates with the aging phase, which lasts from one to three years (check out an excellent video showing the various production phases of the Parmigiano Reggiano).

Sound checks are performed routinely on wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano during the ageing period
Sound checks are performed routinely on wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano during the ageing period

Only the wheels that turn out perfect under all aspects are certified with the consortium logo, mandatory marks, and brand. Quality certification is provided by strict examination by experts using two simple traditional tools: a small hammer and special screw-top nail.

Finished wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP weigh from 24 to 40 kilograms (about 53 to 80 pounds), have a diameter of 35 to 45 centimeters (approximately from 1.14 to 1.48 feet), and are from 18 to 25 centimeters (around 7 to 10 inches) tall.

Sound checks are performed routinely on wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano during the ageing period
Cutting open an aged wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP

Use and Wine Pairing
Beside being the grating cheese par excellence, the Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP is a precious ingredient used to add flavor to a great variety of recipes as well. In addition it is also very good on its own, or paired with fresh fruits, walnuts, or balsamic vinegar.

If served as hors d'oeuvres, a good match is provided by wines from the DOC Colli di Parma (Parma Hills) or dry Malvasia. In general, it pairs well with Chianti Classico, Monica di Sardegna, and Teroldego Rotaliano, but also with noble wines such as the Brunello di Montalcino, or an honest to God dry Lambrusco. Bottom line, almost any noble red wine would pair well with the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.


Castelmagno DOP (Piedmont)
Protected Designations of Origin:
July 1, 1996

The origin of this cheese is very ancient as well, in fact it is mentioned in documents dating back to the 13th century.

Castelmagno DOP
Castelmagno DOP

Characteristics of the Product and Production Phases
The Castelmagno DOP is a semi-hard, semi-fat cheese with herbal nuances, produced with cow milk and the addition of a small quantity of partially naturally skimmed sheep and/or goat milk. The milk comes from cows fed with fresh meadow grass or hay cultivated locally, in order to obtain the characteristic traditional flavor.

The preparation of this cheese lasts about six days and, as for the Parmigiano Reggiano, the milk comes from two different milkings. The evening milk is left to rest overnight in special bowls, in cool rooms or immersed in cold water. In the morning the new milk is added, then the whole mixture is warmed to 37° to 38° C. (98.6° to 100.4°F.) in copper or aluminum double boilers, or in boilers hung over the fire.

Castelmagno DOP
Castelmagno DOP

The milk is treated with calf curd, then the curdle is turned over and broken using a tool called spannarola for about 10 minutes, in order to form homogeneous lumps. The curdle is then transferred into a special piece of cloth known locally as reirolo or risolo, wrapped up, and hung for about 20 hours. Afterward, the cheese is deposited in a bucket for the next two days, then the curdle is remixed, pressed, then broken down again, salted and wrapped in new cloths before being transferred into the forms for a period of one to three days. The curdle is then pressed, first manually then mechanically, and the production stage ends with dry salting both sides of the wheel for a period of two days.

The aging takes place in cool, dry rooms for two to five months, during which period the wheels are left to rest on wooden shelves, and are washed and turned over regularly.

Castelmagno DOP
Castelmagno DOP

The finished product is cylindrical, with a diameter of 15 to 20 centimeters (5.9 to 7.9 inches), are 12 to 20 centimeters (4.7 to 7.9 inches), and weight from 5 to 7 kilograms (11 to 15.5 pounds. The rind is thin, yellow-red in color, and incrementally wrinkled, according to the length of the aging period. The inside is crumbly, more or less compact depending on aging, and has brownish highlights. In the past, the more sapid, spicy aged cheese was favored, however, in recent times, there's the tendency to favor a less matured product, which has a finer flavor and is moderately salted.

Castelmagmno DOP

Use and Wine Pairing
Appreciated as a table cheese, the Castelmagno DOP is also used in the preparation of various typical recipes, such as the gnocchi with Castelmagno. The suggested pairing is with quality Piedmont wines, such as Barbaresco, Barolo, Ghemme, Nebbiolo, and Barbera d'Asti.

  • Production Zone:
    Castelmagno, Pradleves e Monterosso Grana, three municipalities in the province of Cuneo.
  • Producers' Organization:
    Consorzio per la tutela del Formaggio Castelmagno
    12020 Castelmagno (CN)


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