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Parmesan

The English name for what is Parmigiano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in its home country Italy.

The cheese comes in various grades all strictly controlled by Italian "Consorzio di Tutela" food laws; even the feed the cows are given is controlled and it must be made within the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia.

Parmigiano reggiano is the name given to the top grade. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world the name has become synonymous with an hard 'grano-type' cheese suitable for grating.

Cheese of this type was first made by monks in the 11th century, and traditional methods have changed very little, and production is centred around small factories, where modern processes have been held at bay. Its great value in medieval times was that it kept for a long time, and because of its solidarity - was easy to transport.

The best cheeses are made between April and June (when pastures are at their most lush) and known as "di testa"; but all cheeses must be matured for at least six months - the name of the maker being stamped on the rind.

Cheeses over a year old are called "vecchio", then by degrees they become stravecchio (extra old) and then "stravecchione" (super extra old". The older the cheese the sharper the taste.

The whey by-product from the cheese making process is fed to the pigs used for the production of Parma ham.

Parmesan keeps well in the warmest part of the fridge if wrapped loosely in tin foil. See 'Grana'

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