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A Parma Style Cheese
Although I have done a recipe on
Parma cheese in the past, I have never been totally happy with the results since it always seems to fall short in the real comparison with a true Parmigiano-Reggiano brought back from Italy.
Because of this, I have focused on visiting many high quality Parmigiano and Grana Padano producers over the last 3-4 visits in Italy to see what that difference was.

 


Well, as it turns out there was a LOT different in the process.
I have had very good luck getting friends in Italy to connect me with the finest cheese makers and I do find that they are great with sharing once they know how serious I am about the process and details. Indeed, they insist that I see all aspects of the process and make sure that I understand the concepts. Everything from the rennet and culture aspects to the final finished curd decisions and aging dynamics.

This session will be in two parts because I would like to address a simple Parma style cheese for the home cheese maker made from a common store bought milk and with tools that should easily be found in your kitchen.

In part two, I would like to extend this and show a real Parma style cheese as I see it prepared vat-side made from the freshest of milk in Italy and how someone with a bit of cheese making experience can craft this from a good local milk source.

 

Please note that this will be somewhat different from my previous details as well as different from the process in Ricki's book.

Variations in Style

In this session we explore one of the most ancient and unique cheeses of all times. In the US, our respect for this cheese has been tainted by that little green box that was always on the table with pasta throughout our youth. Where this came from and why is probably lost in industrial food history in America.
The real deal is from the north of Italy represented by the following 2 regions:

Parmigiano-Reggiano
which is legally designated in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna all south of the Po River in Emilia-Romagna as well as in the Mantova area in Lombardia north of the Po River.
Parmigiano referring to the city of Parma and Reggiano of course references Reggio Emilia.

Grana Padano
This is quite similar to the Parmigiano-Reggiano It is produced mainly in the Lombardia area north of the Po River. This cheese has somewhat less stringent requirements. The cheese contains less fat, the cows may be fed silage, it is aged less time, and the milk can be several days old.

In addition the name, Parmesan is used for the many cheeses imitating Parmigiano-Reggiano such as those sold in the US.

"Grana" or grain is a term often associated with this cheese historically perhaps due to the characteristic grain structure of the aged cheese. The cheese is most often opened, not with a sharp knife, but with a series of knives which splits the cheese along the grain structure.

What makes Parmigiano-Reggiano such a unique cheese

  • The freshness of the milk: For the real Parma style, the milk comes in the late afternoon, rests overnight for the cream to rise, the skimmed milk is run into the vats the next morning and then the full fat mornings milk is added to the vat. For Grana Padano the milk is not required to be this fresh and is made twice a day with a leaner milk.

  • The natural Flora for converting the lactose: The culture for ripening this cheese comes directly from the milk. It is still very common to see the whey from previous day batches used for the fresh milk. Even though the EU regulators are concerned about this they are not finding any problem with it so far. This whey is however under close testing. I am sure that it works because it has been done for so long that the cultures have been well isolated on the farm and are very competitive in nature.

  • The texture: Because of the very small cut of the curds and the rate at which they are cooked along with the curd mass consolidation taking place in the vat, the final cheese has a very granular texture. This is where the name Grana comes into the picture.

  • The long aging: True Parma is usually aged for a full 2 years before it is released and it is not uncommon to be aged for a lot longer than this. I have been offered 8-10 year old Parma but my preference is in the 3-4 year old cheese. The long aging is due in part to the small curd cut and high cook temperatuer as well as the extended salt brining.
    This is definitely the cheese that travels and keeps well and is very similar to what the Roman Legions would have marched on.

  • Another interesting point here is that "Grana" the same term used for this cheese is also a common term for "Money" in the Italian vernacular. This makes more sense when you see the aging rooms, usually with several thousand of these 85-90 pound cheeses stacked floor to ceiling and you find out that the banks are heavily involved in this business where cheese is considered "Real Equity." Yes, there have been several major multimillion dollar "Cheese Heists".


A Recipe for making a small Parma style cheese in your kitchen

Before you Begin:

You will need:

  • 3 gallon of 2% milk (Not UltraPasturized)
  • 1 packet of our C201 culture
  • Liquid Rennet (1 tsp or 5 ml)
  • Calcium chloride (1/2 tsp or 2.5 ml) .. this should make for a better curd in cold stored milks
  • Mold E28M plus follower
  • Salt for Brine
  • A good thermometer
  • A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds with.
  • A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized for this cheese.  Due to its long aging, clean sanitized equipment is even more important.
I find the easiest and most thorough method is to begin the day with my milk pot and about 2-3 inches of water on the stove, boiling anything that is durable at those temperatures. Let this all boil for 10-15 minutes. I then take all of my tools and lay them on a sanitized surface ready for use.
Make sure the molds, colander, and draining cloth are also sanitized and ready to go because following the whey removal, the curd must move quickly to the mold for pressing.

Also, because the curd cooking is done VERY quickly after cutting, another large pot of water should be kept on the stove just off the boil to add to the water bath in the curd cook/scald step found in the instructions below.


Because much of the milk available today in stores is processed at higher temperatures, I have decided to make this with 3 gallons of 2% pasteurized milk from Garelich Farms. This is made using one of the higher temperature pasteurized milks (176 degrees for 15 seconds). Some find these milks problematic, but adjustments to rennet set time and amounts have been made in this recipe to compensate for this.
(If using a better quality fresh milk, cut back the rennet by 25-30% and the coagulation time listed below by 40-50%)

This should encourage folks to use this type of milk for cheese making!

I am using 3 gallons here because a larger cheese has a better surface to mass ratio for aging. A smaller cheese will dry out with a much greater percentage of rind to cheese. Also the 3 gallons will develop acid less quickly then a 3 gallon batch as in Ricki's book.

Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by adding the calcium chloride and heat the milk slowly to 91-93F. Using a milk pot in a water bath is the best way to do this but if careful in heating it can be done directly on the stove top. I use 2 thermometers to monitor bath and milk temperatures and keep a 10-20F differential between the 2 until I approach the target temperature for the milk. (Yes, those thermometers are pricey$ but it was a great deal on Ebay). The thermometers on Ricki's site do the same job at about 1/10th the cost, these big dials are just easier for these old eyes here and they show up better in the photos I do.

When the milk is at temperature, add the culture. Add 1 pack of Ricki's Thermophilic C-201. This should be stirred into the milk thoroughly and then held at 93F for about 30 minutes.

Coagulation with rennet:

After the 30 minute ripening, give the milk its final stir before adding rennet. Allow it to go quiet and add the 1 tsp of rennet, stirring in an up and down motion for 30 seconds.

At about 8-10 minutes you will notice the milk beginning to thicken, but for this milk it needs to sit quiet for another 20-25 minutes until the curd becomes much firmer. This is a total coagulation time of 30-35 minutes from rennet addition to a final curd ready for cutting.

Cutting curds and releasing the whey by heating:

Cut the curds to about 3/8 to 1/4 inch. I find that a coarse 1" cross cut with a knife breaks up the curd mass nicely and then using a long handled whisk with fine wires produces good results in reducing the curds to size.  Begin slowly with the whisk in a top to bottom manner and then speed up as the curd becomes smaller. Take about 10 minutes for this.

The curds should be cut and stirred for another 10 minutes. Then the water bath should be heated to 120F by adding enough of the boiling water for a quick scald to 110F over 10 minutes.

When curd is at 110F add enough boiling water to increase the bath to 145F and allow the curds to reach 131-133F during the next 10 minutes.

So ... a total of 20 minutes from 93F to 130F+

The curds will quickly cook down to a smaller rice or barley grain size. They will also easily consolidate into a nice curd mass

Draining and Pressing The Cheese:

IMMEDIATLY after achieving the final heat and curd texture, transfer curds to a cloth lined colander. Form the cloth and curds into a ball to help with the consolidation.

The mold should already be sanitized and placed into its draining area. Now transfer the consolidated curd mass in the cloth to the prepared mold.

At this point, the curd should have formed a nice smooth surfaced mass. Press firmly with hand pressure into the mold but do not break the curd mass.

Begin pressing with the follower in place.
Initial pressure will be just enough to keep a thin trickle of whey running from the curd mass (10-12 lbs). As whey runoff slows, increase weight to 25 lbs.

The curd should be removed from the press, turned, and re-dressed (smooth out wrinkles) in the cloth at 10-15 minute intervals for the first 1 hour.

At this point the culture will not be active due to the high temperature so keep the cheese warm (80-85F) since the culture is still working and acid is being produced.

 

As the curd mass cools from 112 to 80F it is at this cooling temperature that the culture bacteria will produce the final acid development.
Press for 4 hours then no weight and hold overnight in mold with no cloth (temperature should be held at 75-80F).
The cheese can be removed from the mold the following morning but keep it from drying out. I find a small plastic box with cover works well for this. The cheese will now be held for 2 days as the culture finishes working before the final salting in brine.

Final yield is about 2.5 lbs from the 3 gallons of milk. The lower yield is due to the high scald temperatures and degree of cooking which results in less moisture. This is also why the cheese is capable of longer aging and more flavor.

Salting:

Salting is done in a saturated brine for about 4 hours per pound since this cheese is quite dense at this point and the salt will take longer to penetrate.

It will take about 2.25 lbs of salt to saturate 1 gallon of boiled water. When cooled to 50F (recommended brining temperature) there should be salt undissolved in the bottom of the container, assuring that the liquid is saturated.

The cheese is placed in a non-reactive pan or basin with enough brine to float the cheese. Since the top will be above the brine and not receive any salt sprinkle, give it a good teaspoon of salt over the surface of the cheese at the beginning of the brining and again at the midway point in brining.

Here is a link to more info and details on brining .

Aging:

The cheese is now ready to dry off for a day or two and then can be aged at 80-85% moisture and 52-58F.
Mold should be brushed or rubbed down with a medium stiff brush or coarse cloth as it develops.
After about 1-2 weeks the rind should harden somewhat and the mold will not grow as readily. A light coat of oil will also discourage mold growth and make the mold easier to remove.
This cheese will be somewhat earlier in ripening and should show good character at about 12-14 months.

 

 


Next month I wil be expanding the Parma details to include

      • more on the process as seen in Italy
      • working with a fresh milk source
      • making a larger Parma or Grana style cheese

  Hearing about your wonderful cheese making adventures always brightens up our day. Please feel free to send us stories and maybe even a photo to:
info@cheesemaking.com
 

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The Cheese Queen is in Food and Wine and Barbara Kingsolver's
book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle!

Thanks for joining our cheese making family, keep those stories & photos coming. We love to hear from you!

In Peace,
Ricki, the cheese queen

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