External Writer: CAFE
Introducing CAFE’s newest project: The Engineer’s Bite! This year CAFE (Canadian Association of Food Engineers), along with a dedicated group of undergraduate students decided to create an exciting and informative magazine that delivers interesting articles about the impacts of food engineering throughout the world. CAFE chose the theme of International Agriculture for the first edition of The Engineer’s Bite, which sheds light on the profound ways that food engineering has had meaningful effects on our day to day lives.
The Engineer’s Bite delivers powerful articles about food engineering from across the globe, along with highlights of CAFE’s events and initiatives throughout the year. The first edition of The Engineer’s Bite will be published in late December, so keep an eye out!
No matter where you are in the world, CAFE is sure that you will find something in The Engineer’s Bite that resonates with you! Here is a sneak peek at what you can expect in the magazine:
Parmigiano-Reggiano, an Italian cheese known globally for its distinct taste and smell, has a history just as rich and diverse, spanning continents. While most may be familiar with the name, what is lesser known is that there is sensitive science involved in the production of this precious cheese, which allows it to not only reach the dining table, but also the business world and Italian culture at large.
One of the most surprising parts of its history, is that cheese, the originator of Parmigiano-Reggiano, was created by accident. Legend has it that an Arabian merchant used a pouch created from a sheep’s stomach to store milk for his journey. As he travelled across the desert, Rennet, an enzyme present in the pouch’s lining, along with heat provided by the sun, caused a separation of the milk into a liquid (whey) and solid (curd). At night, the merchant fulfilled his thirst with the whey and his hunger with the pleasantly-tasting curd.
It is thought that travellers brought cheesemaking to Europe from Asia. Once brought to Europe, the Roman empire was thought to be the first empire to mass produce cheese. Aged cheese and smoked cheese, a Roman invention, extended the shelf life of cheese, which proved beneficial as a portable protein carried by their armies. From there, cheese (and therefore cheesemaking) spread throughout the European continent.
Today, Europe is known to house some of the finest and greatest of cheese in the world.
Italy, known for its substantial use of cheese in its renowned and loved cuisine, is the birthplace of the “King of Cheese”, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
The creation of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese took place in the Middle Ages. Benedictine and Cistercian monks utilized cow milk from farms owned by the monasteries and salt from salt mines in Salsomaggiore (a town in the province of Parma, located in northern Italy) to produce wheels of a dry paste cheese which could be preserved for long periods.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a Product Designation of Origin (PDO); only cheese which follows strict rules during production and which is produced in the Italian provinces of Bologna, Modena, Mantua, Parma, and Reggio Emilia can be named Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
While creating this specific cheese and earning its title is complicated and strict, Parmigiano-Reggiano is actually only made of three ingredients: milk, sea salt, and Rennet. Milk from cows that only consume grass from the provinces listed above is used. The cheese uses two types of milk: fresh whole milk collected from the cows in the morning and naturally-skimmed milk collected from the previous evening.
To begin the cheesemaking process, pumping of the latter milk into copper-lined vats takes place. Rennet is added when the temperature of the milk reaches 30 degrees Celsius which causes the separation of the milk into whey and curd, similar to legend. After a couple of minutes have passed, a large whisk is used to break the curd up into grain-like pieces. The curd mixture gradually reaches a temperature of roughly 54 degrees Celsius, after which it is then left to settle. After 45 to 60 minutes of settling, a large cheesecloth is used to collect and further separate the curd after which the curd is then portioned, with each portion placed in a separate cloth.
The portioned curd is then placed into round, spring form molds which are sealed shut, with a weight placed on top of each mold. When a cheese wheel has undergone enough solidification for it to support itself, the cheese wheel is left in a salt-water brine mixture for 20 to 25 days. From here, the wheel is stored and aged between one to three years. Once the one-year aging mark has been reached, the cheese wheel is given a Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP approval upon successful inspection by the appropriate governing body.
This intricate and long process makes Parmigiano-Reggiano so valuable, that it is accepted as collateral for loans at the Credito Emiliano bank in Montecavolo, Italy since 1953. An average 80-pound wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano can range from $900-$2500.
Often, farmers experience a bad fiscal year due to decreased sales of other products, which is why out of financial necessity, they may liquidate their Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese wheels before the wheels are fully mature. Credito Emiliano loans 70-80% of the value of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese wheels in exchange for the cheese wheels, to farmers who choose to use their cheese wheels as collateral. This allows farmers to gain immediate cash, rather than waiting for the cheese wheels to mature, which could take years.
Once the cheese wheels have been exchanged, they are stored in the Tagliate General Warehouse, which is home to around 300,000 cheese wheels. The wheels of cheese stored in the warehouse are subject to regular inspection done by experts in a carefully controlled environment. The ratio of degradation in this warehouse compared to cheese wheels not stored in the warehouse is 1 to 10, emphasizing how important it is to store these wheels carefully for aging. If loans are not repaid, the cheese wheels are sold by the bank, as a means of recovering its investment, with the difference being returned to the produce.
The next time you purchase a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, you can enjoy it knowing that it has just as rich a history as it does flavour. Further, you can be satisfied knowing that it has undergone a long, intricate, and strict production process – one emblematic of Italian culture and at the heart of Italian cuisine – before reaching your dining table.