Real Parmesan Cheese: How It’s Made

Do you love the taste of Parmesan cheese? If so, you’re not alone. This popular cheese is beloved by many for its nutty and salty flavor.

But have you ever wondered how it’s made?

In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the process of making Parmesan cheese.

We’ll also ask some questions about the production process, like how long it takes to make Parmesan and how do you make rennet.

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

How Italian Real Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) is Made?

The real Parmesan cheese can only be made in particular regions of Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy.

The cheese is exclusively made from the milk of cows that live in the area and is fed with locally produced forage. The use of silage, fermented feeds, additives, and animal flour are banned.

The requirement for forage are (1):

  • The ratio of forage to other feeds must be one or more.
  • The 75% or more of forage (in dry matter) must be produced in PDO areas, where 25% or more must be produced in the same farm where the cheese is made. Lesser or equal to 25% can be produced from the adjacent district.
  • The use of silage is not allowed. Also, the storage of silage in the same farm is prohibited.

Milk Preparation

The first step in making Parmesan cheese is to prepare the milk and whey starter culture. Whey culture is a mixture of lactic acid bacteria that will help to acidify and coagulate the milk later on.

The deal-breaker for a common or fake Parmesan is the quality of the starter culture. Real Parmesan uses a nature whey culture with a very complex bacteria composition subject to the natural environment.

Milk is prepared by mixing two consecutive milkings. The raw unpasteurized whole milk in the morning and the part skimmed milk from the previous day. The ratio is about one to one, maybe slightly adjusted to a final fat content of 2.5%.

They use huge copper cauldron vats for the process.

Milk Coagulation – Curdling

The milk is heated to a temperature of about 30-35 degrees Celsius (86-95 Fahrenheit) and the starter culture is added. Next, rennet is added to the milk to coagulate it. This temperature is suitable for rennet to function properly.

Rennet is an animal-derived set of natural enzymes that comes from the lining of calf stomachs. It includes chymosin, pepsin, and lipase.

Some producers may include microbial enzymes, such as chymosin (fermentation produced).

In about 10-15 minutes, the milk will start to coagulate and form curds. The level of heat, pH, and the addition of rennet will determine the texture and flavor of the final cheese.

Traditionally, a giant whisk tool is used to stir the curds into granules but can be done mechanically.

The temperature is raised to about 55 Celsius (131 Fahrenheit) to cook the curd for about 55 minutes. Slow cooking is to destroy/deactivate the unwanted bacteria, and also to allow curds to precipitate at the bottom of the vat.

The curds form a compacted mass.

Molding and Brining

After that, a cheesecloth is used to collect the curd mass, strain, and tightly wrap in a mold. The mold has dots imprinted on its side with traceable product information. Light pressure is applied to squish out excess whey.

About 8 hours later, the mold is substituted for a metal mold and buckled for 3 days.

Afterward, the embossed cheese is placed in salty water (36% salinity) for about 20-23 days.

Salt is a natural preservative, and this step helps to remove moisture from the cheese, adds flavor, and also restricts the growth of certain bacteria.

The cheese is then drained off and transferred to the aging facility.

Maturation

The final stage of Parmesan cheese is the aging process. The cheese is placed on wooden shelves and monitored for 12 months or more. The minimum aging duration for Parmesan is 12 months.

Top-grade old parmesan can go 3-5 years or longer!

Every one to two weeks, the cheese is turned and cleaned manually or by a robot. During this time, the rind will develop a hard texture, deep golden color, sharper/nuttier taste, and more crunchy crystals or white spots.

And that’s it! That’s how real Parmesan cheese is made from start to finish. But It’s not done yet.

Inspection and Hot-Stamping

After about 12 months, the Consortium experts will evaluate the cheese by a little hammer and screw needle. The quality of parmesan is based on the texture with desirable crack, taste, smell, and appearance such as the glossiness, holes or splits. They will look at the surface splits, erosions, and aroma.

If the quality meets their standards, then it will be fire-branded with the official “Consortium” logo. Only then can it be called and sold as “Parmigiano Reggiano.”

The parmesan grades are classified by:

  • Top grade: Fire-branded with logo. May further classified with noticeable but acceptable defects, “0” for very good and “1” for good.
  • Medium grade: Minor defects. Fire-branded logo, but crossed out or strikethrough horizontally. Some may be sold as a downgraded parmesan.
  • Rejected: Major defects, and have to de-rind. The rind with “Parmigiano Reggiano” imprints is removed entirely.
  • Export/Extra: Over 18 months and indicates high quality. Fired-branded with “Export” or “Extra”.

If it does not meet their strict requirements, then it cannot use the Parmigiano-Reggiano name.

FAQs

How is Parmesan Cheese Made at Home?

Technically, you can’t make parmesan at home.

But you can make a parmesan-style cheese that’s closer to the real one. You can use store-bought whole milk, rennet, and starter culture. You can find all of them online or on Amazon.

Similar to the production of parmesan above. First, warm the milk to 33°C (91°F), then add starter and rennet. Once curdled in about 15 mins, cut the curd and cook it at about 55°C (131°F) for 55 minutes. Collect the curds with cheesecloth and drain the whey. Place into a mold, and press it lightly with weight for 6 hours.

Then, socked under brined water for 24 hours. Finally, age the cheese in a clean, cold, and humid area. You can age it for 2 months, but longer than 12 months is preferred. Read a similar recipe.

What Kind of Milk is Used to Make Parmesan Cheese?

Parmesan cheese is made from a mixture of whole unpasteurized cow’s milk and part-skim milk from the previous day. The fat content is about 2.5%. The cows are raised on a natural diet in certain areas of the Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy region of Italy.

How Long Does it Take to Make Parmigiano?

Making Parmigiano is actually fast but curing it takes a long time. It only takes about 2-6 hours to make the curd, 3 days to mold, and 20 days to brine. The rest is just waiting for it to age where it can take up to 12 months or more.

How Do You Make Rennet?

Rennet is an enzyme that’s used to coagulate milk and make cheese. It’s usually made from the stomach lining of a calf, kid, or lamb. Nowadays, you can also find vegetable rennet or microbial rennet online.

For parmesan production, they use calf rennet. The calf stomach is collected, cut, and identify abomasum (fourth stomach), clean the food particles, rub salt, hang it to dry, dice, and store in salt.

To use it, put a piece of diced rennet into whey or water, and leave it overnight. Vinegar or wine is used to increase acidity. Finally, filter the solution and it’s ready!

What Parmesan Cheese has Sawdust or Wood pulp?

No, cellulose doesn’t found in wheel of cheese and is neither used in the making of cheese. It’s often used in grated or shredded parmesan to prevent caking or clumping. Cellulose is generally harmful and safe to consume, but overconsumption may cause gas, diarrhea, and bloating.

Cellulose is allowed by FDA as a safe additive. Ideally, an acceptable level should be around 2-4%. Some brands may have a higher cellulose content – as much as 8% as reported. Too much of it will affect the flavor, texture, and the overall quality of the cheese.

So, you may find commercial brands of grated parmesan to contain cellulose. For examples, the Parmesan by Kraft USDA Ingredients, and Belgioioso USDA Ingredients.

Parmigiano Reggiano does not contain cellulose. If it says “Parmesan cheese” or “Imported Parmesan” but not “Parmigiano Reggiano” which is a registered trademark of Consorzio Del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s likely not the authentic one. Read Parmesan vs Parmigiano Reggiano.

Parmigiano Reggiano is expensive. Therefore, a budget-friendly and easier alternate way is to just buy a piece of regular parmesan block and grate it yourself.

Read these best parmesan brands without cellulose.

Reference:

  1. Science Direct – Parmigiano Reggiano
  2. Science Direct – Parmesan
  3. Wikipedia – Rennet
  4. Parmigiano Reggiano – Regulations