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Digital Subscriptions > Italia! > Aug 2019 > THE KING of cheeses

THE KING of cheeses

Chris Allsop flies out to Emilia Romagna to tour a Parmigiano Reggiano dairy and understand the provenance and processes that create this world-famous cheese
Even the French don’t have a cheese quite like Parmigiano Reggiano

”This mainstay of the western fridge cheese compartment has remained almost unchanged since the 12th century”

Helena explains the markings on the cheese
Each dairy has its own identification number

“When I have French groups, they have many excellent cheeses, but they do not have Parmigiano Reggiano.” Our guide, Helena, puts her fingers together and gestures aggressively. “They have to accept.”

Only five minutes into the tour of the Santo Stefano Dairy – one of around 330 dairies in a strictly delineated section of the agricultural heartland that is the Emilia Romagna province – I hadn’t (perhaps naively) expected the rivalry between the great cheese nations to bubble up so quickly. But it’s hard to argue with Helena – perfectly made up beneath the blue plastic hygiene hat and smock that we’re all wearing – as, while France has many world-beating cheeses, it doesn’t have anything to rival the fruity, multi-purpose, hard-aged magnificence of Parmigiano Reggiano.

This mainstay of the western fridge cheese compartment has remained almost unchanged since the 12th century, when it was first created by Benedictine monks as a winter foodstuff. Today, it’s a treasured cornerstone of Italian cuisine, its punchy, complex flavour as suited to being eaten in raw crystalline chunks as it is to being melted into a sauce.

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About Italia!

This is the month of Ferragosto, the festival on the 15th of August celebrated throughout Italy, (also in San Marino and the canton of Ticino in Switzerland, fact fans…). If you’ve been in Italy in August, you’ll know the kind of festive mood the country is in, and you’ll find it in this issue of Italia! too!