Aftershocks: The Fate of Parmigiano Reggiano

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As many of you know, the Emilia Romagna region (famous for production of Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano) of Italy was hit bad last month by a series of relentless earthquakes. May 20th and 29th were bad days in the world of cheese producers, as years of careful aging and hard labor toppled to the ground.

According to a letter published by the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, damages include:

  • 37 factories effected in towns of Mantova, Modena, and Reggio Emilia
  • 600,000 wheels were effected in the quake
  • Of those 600,000 wheels, 50% can be saved and continue on in aging for eventual sale as certified DOP Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 300,000 wheels (amounting to roughly 10% of annual production) have been irreparably destroyed.

What does this information say about the market? For those of you who are unaware, the rise and fall of price in Parmigiano Reggiano is monitored as closely as the NYSE. Weekly, a private Italian dairy consulting firm (www.clal.it/en) produces a stock market-esque analysis of the supply/demand chain of prices for all forms of cheese and dairy products in Italy.

To give you an idea of the evolving market: Image

The top line representing Parmigiano Reggiano, you can see that prices in 2011/12 are above 12 Euro per kg (roughly $8/lb) in ITALY! At Whole Foods this dairy gold sells for over $20/lb. While prices are suspected to fall in 2013, based on the simple laws of supply and demand it will take roughly 2 years to replace the destroyed product.

Being a salesman for imported Parmigiano Reggiano, this is not good news for me. Will Parmigiano Reggiano retain it’s standing title as the “King” of cheeses? Most likely… it seems people will always pay to be satisfied…the joys of niche markets!

 

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Clandestino Chaos

Parma, Italy

 

The lack of posts can be easily justified by the explanation of the utter chaos and insanity that has been endured in the past 3 weeks of my life. I know most of you come to this blog to read about the adventures of my stomach, but this time the only thing my stomach wanted to do was flip and eject itself from the rest of my body (no I did not suffer a digestive virus).

Here is the a list of events that may contribute to the development of my unforeseen schizophrenia:

1) The organization of Italian Bureaucracy is like a scene out of a 3 stooges film. One person bumping into the next, running in circles around each other trying to feign some thread of structure. This has thus made my immigration process absolutely laughable….to say the least I was given an appointment in MARCH to meet with the immigration office.

2) I currently live in a hotel, and my residence naturally, has been booked by someone else in January, forcing me to find a new place to live in very little time. The upcoming Christmas season does not help.

3) I GOT A JOB! As a gastronomic tour guide for Parma Golosa, a food centered travel agency here in Parma. I’ll be giving Americans tours of Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto, and Balsamic Vinegar factories here in the area. They’re even giving me a car!

After all this mess, I’ve come to realize that my life is like a Woody Allen film…only perhaps a little bit less intelligent.

We’ll have to see what’s in store for the next installment of “My Life is a Mess.”

Buon Appetito.

My Internship: An Homage to Pork

So there I was, sitting nervously across the table from the marketing director of Ferrarini, a family owned company that produces typical products from Emilia Romagna (Prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar, Lambrusco, etc.). I look around me, studying the hanging legs of cured pork, its salty sweet perfume permeates the room. Coming to from my pork induced daze, I realize the director has been studying my every move since the moment I walked into the office.

Preparing to ask his first question, my heart skips a beat, “So why do you care about Italian food? To me it would make more sense for an American to want to promote his own culinary culture no?.” Great. His seemingly nonchalant question has me starting to sweat. I look to the pork for support. “Well, sir, most modern American food corporations of similar size to Ferrarini have been overwhelmed by mass industry. No longer is there passion, or pride in the product being produced. Ferrarini, is a large company, but is family owned, serving consumers products that are Mr. Ferrarini himself would serve to members of his own family.”

This was obviously a good answer, because I saw Mr. Marketing crack a smile. After a series of more demanding questions, I convinced the folks at Ferrarini to take me under their wing, and offer me an internship. I am hoping that this turns into a full-time paying gig… but only time will tell..

I can see it now, my religiously Jewish high school writes an article in the school paper titled “Alums, Where Are They Now?” and there I will be, the President of Pork. An overplayed oxymoron that happens to be my reality. Sorry God, but when opportunity calls….

I start working in mid-June, on various projects they have proposed, particularly involving my internet skills. See mom? I told you my internet addiction would turn out to be positive 😉

Future, Here I Come...

Parmigiano Reggiano: Two Days with the King of Cheese

Another day, another delicious food excursion. The past two days here at UNISG we had the opportunity to study Parmigiano Reggiano in delicious depth, going to not only the production facility, but also specific regulation cow farms, the official Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, a cheese aging warehouse, as well as an international packaging and handling facility.

First of all, I must say that Parmigiano Reggiano is not the same thing as Parmesan ‘cheese’ gratings found in the little green Kraft can. Oh no, real Parmigiano Reggiano is a extremely delicate and well protected product, produced specifially in the towns of Parma, Modena, Reggio Emilia, and small portions of Bologna and Mantova. In fact, there are only 400 licensed producers of the product in all of Italy.

As Parmigiano Cheese buffs like to say, the production of Parmigiano Reggiano starts at the cow. In order for a farm to produce milk for Parmigiano cheese, it must feed it’s cows cereals and hay that is grown only in the region of Emilia Romagna. It is thought that by keeping this production completely localized, it is easier to regulate and maintain its quality standards.

Product Facts:

  • 2.7 Million wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano are produced per year
  • Each wheel weighs around 60 kg (almost 150 lbs)
  • An entire wheel costs about 500 Euros
  • To produce 1 wheel of cheese about 640 litres (169 gallons) of milk are required
  • Minimum aging period: 12 months, though it is usually not sold until 18 months of age.

Health Benefits:

  • Its extremely high in calcium: recommended to women with tendencies for osteoporosis
  • Something about the product’s composition makes it extremely beneficial for gastro-intestinal health.
  • Was the first cheese in space, given to astronauts to aide in bone/organ strength while in orbit

I don’t want t bore you with facts and figures, so I’ll leave you with some photographs of my experience in the past 2 days. To say the least, I have had enough Parmigiano Reggiano to last a lifetime, though luckily I don’t believe I will ever run out of the product, given that I live here in Parma. ohhhh the difficult life I lead.

And here are a couple of videos of my new best friend Parmigiano Reggiano:

Typical Parmasean Cuisine: A Winter Specialty

As I sit in my apartment, staring out my huge Romantic era glass windows, I am sheltered by the absolute freezing cold that lurks outside. To be fair my California blood has a much lower cold threshold than other parts of the world, but nevertheless…37 degrees is cold.

Each region in Italy has its own typical cuisine, based upon available products and cultural history. Sometimes these cuisines can vary greatly even between bordering cities. NOW, while regional specialties of Parma have become sentimental favorites, they can tend to become a little repetitive and heavy, as every restaurant in this city seems to feature these specialties on their menu.

Some examples of typical Parma foods:

  • Torta Fritta con Salumi: A fried dough pocket typically eaten together with prosciutto and parmasean cheese. This is such a prized specialty here in Parma that many restaurants even advertise it as some sort of celebration. This is eaten more typically in the summer but it can be found year-round.
    Torta Fritta
  • Tortelli d’Erbetta/Zucca: Tortelli, a stuffed pasta similar to ravioli, is a family favorite here in Parma. The most typical fillings to find in this area are Erbetta: herb and Zucca: pumpkin. The herb variety is usually mixed with ricotta while the Zucca is usually just a puree. The Zucca ones are so sweet they sometimes are served with crushed Amaretti cookies as a garnish, though these are a littttle too much on the sweet side for me. They are served with a butter sauce and fresh grated Parmagiano cheese

    Tortelli d'Erbetta doust in butter and cheese...mmmm cardiac arrest

    Cappelletti in Brodo: A very typical winter dish. Cappelletti, meaning little hats in Italian, are small refilled pasta that can look something like what Americans think to be tortelini. They are usually stuffed with ham, cooked to Al-Dente in chicken broth,  and served like a soup with grated parmigiano cheese.

    Cappelletti in Brodo
    As the weather gets colder, heavier the meals get, and subsequently the heavier I get…. as you can see I might be making a weight-loss New Years resolution this year…

Culatello and Lambrusco: Story of My Life

For the third and final day of our cured meat stage we were given the pleasure to go to a small-family owned pig farm/bed and breakfast (I promise it was way more appealing than it seems) called Antica Corte Pallavicina in a very small town outside of Parma called Polesine Parmense. At this small family owned farm, they produce about 6,000 culatelli a year.. I guess I should start by saying that Culatello is the prime part of the prosciutto, the fattier part of the leg, and it is extremely work intensive.

In order to prepare a culatello, the fresh meat is soaked in a mixture of wine, garlic, salt, pepper, and sets for a week. After this week this part of the pig butt (culo=butt, its namesake) it is tied up, extremely tight, and allowed to cure for at least a year. The conditions in this particular region are prime for curing culatello because of the humidity and weather patterns.

Culatello is MUCH more expensive than regular prosciutto, selling between 60-110 euro/kg depending on the type of pig that is used. It has a much sweeter taste than regular prosciutto as well.

Then we went to the Lambrusco and Sparkling wines producer “Ceci” to have an exclusive look at how these wines are produced. Lambrusco, to many, is known as the “Coca-Cola” of wines, as it is a young wine, usually only left to ferment for 4-5 months, and has a lower alcohol content than other wines (between 10-11%), it’s price is also an indication as even good bottles don’t sell for more than 5E a bottle.

While all the technical explanations were interesting, the tasting at the end was obviously the most appreciated portion of our tour 😉
Here is a quick video demonstrating the process of tying up a Culatello di Zibello, very work intensive.

After these 3 days of meat, I literally feel like I’m turning into a prosciutto… Salad, salad, salad, this is my new mantra.