Visit a Parmesan Cheese Factory

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It seems there is no cheese in the world quite like it: produced in huge wheels which are actually branded like prized livestock, the more crumbly it is the more expensive it is, and when it's grated it melts, instead of coagulating into big globs or ugly strings that make you look like a fool in a restaurant. If you have ever wondered how it's made, we highly recommend a visit to a factory in Parma. It's quite easy to arrange, plus you get your own private guide who speaks your language and, like all the residents of this area, is warm, friendly and loads of fun.

During the course of the one-hour tour, you'll not only meet the Master Cheesemaker (whose expertise produces such economic well-being around these parts that he is tantamount to a hot-shot stockbroker on Wall Street), you'll see every step of the process he and his apprentices use to turn ordinary milk into a wheel of blue-ribbon cheese in less than 24 hours. And that's not all: you'll find out who makes the milk that makes the cheese, how to distinguish great parmesan from mediocre parmesan, and why no ham in the world compares to prosciutto di Parma for sweetness. At the end of the tour you'll be treated to your own little tasting party - Parmigiano Reggiano washed down with a sip of local wine.

Visits to the factories are free of charge and are all scheduled for 8 a.m on weekdays only. It's worth getting up for, but you should really be staying in the area or very near it to avoid having to rise with the...ahem...cows. We highly recommend Reggio Emilia, the true birthplace of this cheese, and one of the nicest hotels in the whole region, Hotel Posta right at the heart of the town. The staff will be happy to make arrangements for you to visit a factory with very little advance notice. If you are staying elsewhere, then at least six weeks before the date you wish to reserve, try contacting the Parma tourist office at Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, tel. +39 0521/218889 - fax 0521/218887 - email them - visit their website For information on the spot, visit the Tourist Office, Via Melloni, 1/a - 43121 Parma, tel. 0521/218889. Most of the time tours are scheduled at the Caseificio Consorzio Produttori Latte. To get there, exit the A1 autostrada at Parma, turn left, then go straight following signs for Colorno. Almost immediately you will see a small sign for Baganzolino (or a brown and yellow sign for the caseificio itself). Turn left here, drive about 200 yards more and pull up to the gate. Even if you can't get there at 8 a.m., you can always stop in to buy a big wedge of cheese for incredibly low prices.

Text and Photos by Kristin Jarratt

The staff at Hotel Posta will be happy to elevate your Emilia Romagna foodie experience to an even higher level by arranging a visit to their very own balsamic vinegar farm high in the hills above the town, where you can see the production, enjoy a tasting and finish off with an authentic farmhouse dinner. Or visit one of the foods museums in the area!

Once you get home with your prize, here's a yummy recipe recommended by the folks in Parma:

Tomatoes with Parmigiano Reggiano
(To serve 6 people)

6 large tomatoes
2 eggs
g. 100 (3.5 oz) grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Ingredients for the Besciamelle sauce:
g. 50 (1.75 oz) butter
g. 100 (3.5 oz) flour
1/2 liter (1 pint) milk

Wash the tomatoes well, slice the tops off and extract a little of the pulp.
Make the Besciamelle sauce and add the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese at the end, along with the salt and the egg yolks.

Distribute the cheese sauce evenly in the tomatoes and then place in a baking dish. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees Celcius (350 degrees F.) for around 30 minutes.

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