One of things Brand Dialogue prides itself in is truly understanding each of our clients and their unique products. This isn't out of the ordinary, as the best way to deliver integrated marketing and public relations campaigns is to fully understand your audience as well as what makes each product so special.
That's why we were more than excited to travel to the Emilia Romagna region in Italy for an immersive Parmigiano Reggiano experience. Although Brand Dialogue has represented Parmigiano Reggiano for more than 20 years, we believe that continued training is essential to grow and evolve with our clients as they face new challenges each year.
The first day began with a sensorial analysis of Parmigiano Reggiano at the Consortium headquarters. We were given three different ages, 12 month, 24 month and 36 month, and began to recognise all the characteristics of Parmesan. It takes all five senses to fully taste the cheese. First, we look at the cheese to see its colour and if there are any noticeable defects. Then we touch it to feel its elasticity and how it responds to pressure. The next sense is smell there are close to 1,000 different aromas that can be detected in Parmigiano Reggiano, although each age of cheese has distinct aromas that often come through. Finally, we taste the cheese to savour its flavours and texture and listen to the sound of the cheese as its being chewed. Luckily for us, each age of Parmigiano Reggiano required several tastings to fully understand and appreciate their characteristics.
After a quick lunch in the town of Collechio, we travelled to farm Fochi, a four-generation family-owned farm, where we learned more about the milking process of Parmigiano Reggiano cows.
The cattle, which produce the milk for the production of Parmigiano Reggiano, follow a specific diet. The specifications establish that at least 50% of the forage used by the cattle should be grown by the dairy farm, and at least 75% should be grown within the production area. We learned that Fochi farm grows 90% of their cattle's diet.
We were also reminded that the farm must keep to a strict milking schedule. The milk from the evening milking and that from the morning milking has to be delivered to the dairy within two hours from the end of each milking.
After the tour of the farm, we shared a tasting of 24-month Parmigiano Reggiano which was produced from milk that came from Fochi farm.
After a short drive to Calestano, we were invited to the Ravarano dairy to better understand the cheese making process. This was led by Damiano, an experienced cheese maker who explained what was happening during the process. The transformation of milk into Parmigiano Reggiano depends on the skill of the cheese maker.
His knowledge and techniques are the result of generations of experience, handed down through the centuries.
Every day, the milk from the evening milking is left to rest until morning in large vats, where the fatty part spontaneously rises to the surface.
As soon as the whole milk form the morning milking arrives from the farm, the skimmed milk from the night before is poured into the typical bell-shaped copper cauldrons where calf rennet and fermented whey, rich in natural lactic ferments obtained from the processing of the day before, are added.
The milk coagulates in around 10 minutes, and the curd which forms is then broken down into minuscule granules using a traditional tool called a spino.
The cooking process then takes place, where the temperature reaches 55 degrees centigrade, after which the cheesy granules sink to the bottom of the cauldron forming a single mass.
After resting for around thirty minutes, the cheese mass is removed by the cheese maker, cut into two parts and wrapped in its typical cloth, the cheese is then placed in a mould which will give it its final shape.
Each cheese is given a unique, progressive number using a casein plate and this number remains with it just like an identity card. After a few hours, a special marking band engraves the month and year of production onto the cheese, as well as its cheese dairy registration number and the unmistakable dotted inscriptions around the complete circumference of the cheese wheel.
After few days, the Parmigiano Reggiano wheels are immersed in a water and salt-saturated solution. It is a process of salting by absorption which, within less than a month, closes the production cycle and then begins the cycle of maturation.
Once we'd witnessed the production of the cheese, Damiano showed us the warehouse. It was an incredible experience to stand among the towers of 6,000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, truly bringing to life the slow maturation process of the cheese.
In fact, the minimum maturation time is twelve months, and only at this point can it be decided if each individual cheese is worthy of the name Parmigiano Reggiano. The experts of the Consortium examine each cheese wheel one by one. After the Control Bodys inspection, a mark is fire-branded onto the individual cheeses which meet the requirements of the Protected Designation of Origin.
After the dairy tour, we enjoyed an amazing lunch in Calestano at Ostaria CaDAngel, which included handmade pasta of course covered with Parmigiano Reggiano.
The afternoon was spent at the farm AZ. AGR. Bastia, where we met Diego. Diego is a passionate farmer who specifically purchased a farm in the area of origin, just so he could produce milk for Parmigiano Reggiano.
He was also happy to share a tasting of Parmigiano Reggiano that was produced from his milk. We found it incredibly inspiring to meet the people who dedicate their life to making this special product.
On the morning of our last day we visited Nonno Fereoli, a Parmigiano Reggiano supplier. We met with Luca whose father Divino was a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese maker. Luca has been trained in sensorial analysis and walked us through a tasting of 12-month, 36-month and 60-month Parmigiano Reggiano.
It was a new experience to taste cheese that had been aged for five years. Luca explained the distinct aromas and taste coming through due to the long maturation period.
After a final meal at La Brace di Maiatico, it was time for us to head back to London. The training left us inspired and excited to share all we had learned with UK consumers.