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THE LEGEND OF PARMESAN


THE LEGEND OF PARMESAN Roma - (Adnkronos Multimedia) - Its history goes back at least eight centuries to about 1200 when the cheese-makers of the lower Padana plain began to make the cheese in the manner and shape still rigorously maintained today. It is a top-ranking business with three million cheeses produced in 2003 by more than 580 operators who formed a consortium in 1934. Their weight amounts to 120,000 tons and earnings are about a billion euro, of which a third is from export - almost half of it in the European Union. Parmesan Reggiano (www.parmigiano-reggiano.it) is the most famous of all Italian cheeses and perhaps the best in the world. It is certainly one of the oldest. Historical testimony shows that already towards the end of the 13th century, Parmesan Reggiano was produced according to the same standards as today. The cheese-makers who obtained this type of cheese with its unique characteristics were probably not immediately aware that they had created something that was absolutely unique. They were merely content with the excellent quality achieved. Genius surely played a part in the result. But that is not the whole story. Besides man's labor, many other factors contributed to its creation, including the geological formation of the land and the special type of livestock.
This combination of agricultural and environmental circumstances produced - as it still does today - extremely high quality milk. It was different even from the milk of nearby areas and the only milk that could produce this exceptional cheese that matured very slowly. Only the experience and tenacity of the producers have preserved through the centuries the characteristics of Parmesan Reggiano. They have never given in, not even today, to the temptation to simplify the production process. Still today the cheese-makers around Parma and Reggio Emilia observe the methods and techniques of the past.

The oldest testimony of the origin and quality of Parmesan Reggiano goes back to the Renaissance. Boccaccio talks about it in his Decameron where Maso describes to Calandrino the town of Bengodi. Frate Salimbene also mentions it in his "Chronicles" from the 15th century and Francesco Serra cites it in the first Italian dictionary of synonyms published in 1656: "the names of the cheeses derive from the places where the best examples are made. For example, there is Parmigiano, which takes its name from the place and from its high quality". A curious testimony, referred to by various biographers, states that Molière, in later years, nourished himself mainly with Parmesan, a confirmation of the modern recommendation of this cheese for children and the elderly due to its high nutritional value, its digestibility and its wealth of calcium and phosphorus that are easily assimilated.

In the archives of Reggio Emilia and of Parma, especially in the records of exported goods, there is mention from the 16th century of shipments of Parmesan Reggiano to all parts of Europe and there is also mention of a complicated legal question that arose in 1536 regarding the fact that some cheese-makers of the Veneto region tried to make Parmesan, thus creating the oldest precedent of falsification.

The recent history of Parmesan Reggiano is also characterized by important elements, particularly the institution of the Safeguarding Consortium. For the last seventy years the government has recognized the uniqueness of the product of about 600 small artisan cheese-makers in the typical region who work the milk produced by almost 9,000 farmers. The cheese is produced using the original working method that guarantees a very high level of quality. A series of regulations, applied with rigid self-discipline and in conformity with rigorous controls, are aimed at guaranteeing the absolute genuineness of the product.
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