This week the Massachusetts Cheese Guild and Eataly Boston held a cheesemonger social in which members of the Massachusetts cheese industry were able to gather together for wine, a presentation on Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse by Atalanta’s Andrea Berti, and of course a tasting of the Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse. Our research intern Daniel, who is also a cheesemonger at Eataly Boston, attended and had a chance to expand his knowledge of the incredible cheese that is Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse:
Surely, you’ve had Parmigiano-Reggiano at some point, whether grated onto your pasta or just in chunks on a cheese plate. But what about Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse (Red Cow Parmigiano-Reggiano)? Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse is made using the milk of the Vacche Rosse of the Reggiana breed which was brought to Northern Italy in the 4th Century A.D. by the Lombards. The Red Cows are referred to as the “Mothers of Parmigiano-Reggiano” as the breed was used in the original production of Parmigiano-Reggiano by Benedictine Monks as far back as 800 years ago. As time went on, the Reggiana was gradually replaced with Holstein and Swiss Brown cows which yield almost 3 times as much milk as the Reggiana breed. Following World War II, the Reggiana faced extinction as crossbreeding and replacement continued with total headcounts dwindling down as low as 450 cows. With the help of the Consorzio Vacche Rosse and the introduction of breeding standards, the Reggiana population has grown back to about 3,000 cows.
Since Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse is a PDO cheese it is made using strict production methods. Producers use two batches of milk, one skimmed and one whole, in a copper vat which holds enough milk for two wheels, typically a yield ratio of 15 pounds of milk to 1 pound of cheese. Once the curd is formed and cut into very small granules, it is separated from the whey and collected in cheese cloth, cut in half and placed into two wooden molds to form the shape of the wheel. After four days in the mold, the wheels are soaked in a salt-water solution for about three weeks, this helps bring out the salty profile of the flavor and form the rind. Throughout the aging process, the outsides of the wheels are tapped in various spots to detect possible defects in the cheese, assuring that only the best wheels make it to the consumer. Because of the high levels of casein protein in the milk of the Reggiana, the cheese is better suited for longer aging times. Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse is aged for at least 24 months, double the minimum aging time for Parmigiano-Reggiano made without the milk of the Reggiana breed. After the aging period, the cheese is inspected once more and then given the mark of the Vacche Rosse on the top and bottom of the wheel.
Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse is an incredible raw milk cheese steeped in flavor and tradition and is a must try for all fans of cheese, turophiles and novices alike! Find some near you and make Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse a feature of your Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day celebrations!
Daniel McElligott, Oldways Cheese Coalition Research Consultant