Elvis. Louis XIV. Michael Jackson. Parmigiano-Reggiano. What do these amazing entities have in common? Yes, they’re all “The King”. Being a king, you gotta be pretty unique (“unique” — adjective — unlike anything else). Well, that sure sounds like it sums up the first three on the list, but a cheese??
Sure enough, the real deal Parmigiano-Reggiano is known as the king of cheeses for a number of reasons, including the unique location from which it originates. Real Parm can only come from one specific spot on the globe — a tiny grass-strewn hamlet comprising the areas of “the Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna (only the area to the west of the river Reno), Modena (all in Emilia-Romagna) and Mantova (in Lombardia, but only the area to the south of river Po), Italy.” Basically, as with wine, it’s all about the terroir!
As for why this makes it the king of cheeses… Well, as with the King of Pop, Parmigiano-Reggiano just tops everything else in its genre (a thousand years history of perfecting the art doesn’t hurt). And just like a trip to Graceland to revere that King, I recently made a pilgrimage to Parma for a mouth-watering tour of Agricola Giansanti, one of the few officially sanctioned producers. From happy cows comes happy milk and the cows that produce the milk for Parmigiano-Reggiano look like a bus of school kids going to Disney. Upon entering the unadorned, low-key shop, the rich, grassy smells of the huge wheels of hand-chiseled cheese envelope you. And once you get a little hunk of the sweet-salty, perfectly flaky stuff on your tongue… Pow! Right in the kisser!
The folks at Giansanti still smile when wide-eyed food lovers “wow” their way up to the counter. And when prompted for an impromptu tour of the hallowed cheese aging room, the head of operations was more than delighted to give us the 5000-wheel tour on the spot. Stepping off the darkened industrial elevator, our host threw a wry smile as he pressed open the steel door to the vault of gold. Wow. Walking through the floor to ceiling wheels of perhaps the most recognizable and most respected cheese on the planet is akin to a bedroom tour of Versailles.
I could go on about the delights of knocking back tender morsels of freshly cut parm while riding the local bus back into town and the satisfaction of sharing it with our friends but the drool is starting to make typing difficult, so I point you over to One True Vine journal, our intrepid print magazine which explores our culinary and wine travels in more depth (recipes included!).
If you’re a foodie, visiting the Parma region is a must. You can opt for standard (read: boring) pre-set bus/limo tours which line you up and march you through at regular intervals reducing the experience to waiting in line at the pharmacy… or you can be more free-form and simply take a taxi, rental car or local bus to any of the farms yourself. I can almost guarantee that they’ll be more than happy you came and you can enjoy the experience at your leisure. Cheers!