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Food by VICE

The Cheese Mob Keeps Parmigiano-Reggiano in the Bank

Parmesan cheese, or Parmigiano-Reggiano, is money. It gets branded like a tattoo and sent directly off Parmigiano banks. But behind the dank flavor, this complicated wheel of enzymes and curds has an insane history guarded by a fiercely protective...

by Charlotte Kamin
Aug 7 2014, 5:30pm

Photo by Janelle Jones

If cheddar is the OG of the cheese world, then Parmigiano-Reggiano, affectionately known as "Parm" for short, is the motherfucking Don. It's sweet, savory, and it's got those crunchy, crystalline bits like shards of diamonds in a frozen desert of caramel and tropical wonders. Not only has this cheese been around for over 800 years, but this beast has also kept its style since 1200 AD.

So what's up with the cheese that not only has a Consortium to protect its integrity, but also has specialized keys to crack this bitch open? Parm keys, to be more specific. Under the thick, almost bullet proof, waxy—but not actually waxed—rind is the mother-loving secret garden of the cheese world. The Holy Grail. It's like she's got an iron-clad chastity belt to protect that sweet, sweet, salty center.

Who the fuck are you, Parmigiano-Reggiano?

By rules of the Consortium—a cheese mob that defends and protects Parm production and closely monitors how it is used and where it is being produced—Parmigiano-Reggiano has to:

-Be exclusively made in the Reggio Emilia and Mantova regions of Italy.

-Only use raw milk from cows that feed only feed on fodder from those regions.

-Must be a specific size and shape to pass standards.

-Use the same recipe and production that has been used since its inception.

And then there's a bunch of other shit the Consortium controls. I might be left for dead if I tell you.

So let's break this all down to the basics: Whole-fat raw milk is added to partially skimmed raw milk. Skim milk is that thing that happens when you let that liquid gold chill out for a minute until all that fine, luscious, cream rises to the top. Then skim it off and save it for a rainy day, or the ultimate naked wrestling match of your life.

For Parm, that dank-ass cream gets used for some of the most mind-blowing butter around. Then, the magic happens: rennet, enzymes, and alchemy create a base mixture that coagulates. Curds get cut, whey drains out, and then the gelatinous mass gets swooped up in some cheese cloth, bound into a metal girdle of sorts, and posted up for a few days to get its carefully protected wheel shape.

Traditionally, the remaining whey would be used to feed the pigs that later transform into prosciutto di Parma. But after all the cutting, draining, and binding of these wheels (kinky, I know), they get placed on wooden shelves for 12 months until the Consortium comes to inspect each individual. And if that wheel is up to snuff, it gets branded like a tattoo and sent directly off to markets or a Parmigiano bank. Some regular banks even accept Parm as collateral for loans. Money, baby—this cheese is money.