All over Italy, there are regions that are well known for their foods. In fact, it would be fair to say that every city, town, and village has a speciality dish of which they’re particularly proud.
Food in general is a point of pride with the Italians.
And of course, with great Italian food must come great Italian wine.
In global culinary arts, there is perhaps no nation that understands the importance of pairing the right wine with the right food quite like the Italians. They don’t just create meals. They create experiences that bring together food, wine, and a wonderful atmosphere.
Thankfully, many of the goods that make Italy so famous are also available for international foodies. After all, the nation wants to share the wealth, which means that everybody else gets to benefit.
We’ve examined many of these regional delicacies on the Xtrawine blog, and we’re often quick to point to wine pairings that we think that you should try for them.
And that’s exactly what we intend to do here as well.
The focus of our foodie gaze this week falls on the world-renowned Parmigiano Reggiano.
Have you not heard of the name?
That’s no surprise. Parmigiano Reggiano may be what the Italians call it, but in many other territories it’s referred to as Parmesan cheese.
In this article, we take a look at this very special cheese, as well as examining a few of the wines that work best with it.
What is Parmigiano Reggiano?
First things first, let’s deal with the most controversial issue.
We mentioned Parmesan cheese above. But it’s important to recognise that Parmesan cheese is not automatically Parmigiano Reggiano. In fact, the Parmesan label is essentially a blanket term that can apply to all manner of cheeses. Many of these aren’t even produced in Parma.
Instead, they’re simulations of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese that try to emulate its texture and flavour, without offering the pure quality that the cheese is known for.
In fact, the use of the Parmesan label is so widespread that cheesemakers may no longer use it for any cheese that isn’t original. It’s illegal to label anything that isn’t a Parmigiano Reggiano as a Parmesan cheese in the European Economic Area. If a producer does, they’ll face the full wrath of European law.
So, that leaves a key question. What counts as a legitimate Parmigiano Reggiano.
The answer lies in the area of production. A true Parmigiano Reggiano can only come from one of six zones:
Anything else is not an original Parmigiano Reggiano and thus should be avoided unless you’re willing to sully your tastebuds with a cheap imitation.
In fact, these regions are so set in stone that they’ve been labelled as the protected designations of origin for the cheese. Much like the DOC label attached to wines, this label ensures that only legitimate Parmigiano Reggiano can carry the name.
There’s good reason for this as well. The reputation of Parmigiano Reggiano is such that it’s often referred to as the “King of Cheeses”.
With such a lofty reputation to uphold, it would be unseemly to allow imitators to get a foothold.
Parmigiano Reggiano Production
As you can imagine, there’s a very regimented production process in place for the Parmigiano Reggiano. Any producer that does not follow this process runs the risk of losing the designation attached to their cheese.
Firstly, it’s crucial that the cheese comes from cow’s milk that’s left unpasteurised. This is all about the natural aspect of product. Instead, the producers mix skimmed milk with the milk from the cow.
This milk mixture then gets pumped into vats that have a copper lining.
While in these vats, the producers must control the temperature carefully to produce the cheese. This is an in-depth process that only the most skilled cheesemakers can follow. Interestingly, the whey that’s left over from this process often gets fed to pigs that are destined to become Parma Ham.
After removal from the vats, the cheese is put into a stainless steel device that gives it the round shape that so many people know. During this process, the cheese is also imprinted with various details relating to the time and date of production.
After a brining process in which the cheese absorbs salt, it’s transferred to an ageing room and left for an entire year. The shelves that hold the cheese are cleaned once per week, plus the producers must make a point of turning the cheese regularly.
After the year elapses, the cheese undergoes a throughout inspection from the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano. Some cheeses don’t mark the grade, in which cases they receive a mark that informs people of the lacking quality of the cheese.
Salt is the only additive allowed for the cheese. This salt typically comes from the Mediterranean Sea, which adds even more of a regional flavour to it. Moreover, the cow themselves can only feed on hay or grass. Any artificial foods or other types of food produce a less pure cheese which doesn’t reach the right standard.
The Best Wine Pairings
As you can see, Parmigiano Reggiano is a particularly special kind of cheese. As a result, you don’t want to waste it by pairing it with the wrong type of wine.
Many people traditionally pair white wines with cheeses. But that’s not always something that you will want to do here. If you do decide to pair it with a white, the wine needs a full body to compete with the flavour of the cheese.
But for us, there’s one red that stands above all others for pairing with Parmigiano Reggiano. Remember how we called this the “King of Cheeses” above? What better wine to pair with it than the King of Wines itself, Barolo.
In truth, any tannic red wine will work well with the cheese. But we fully recommend pairing it with a Barolo at least once to get two kings in one meal.