Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Food Day

Today we visited three different food production facilities.  Each of these processes is something that has been passed down for many generations and limited to a specific region of Italy.  It was very interesting. Hopefully the pictures will explain it better than we could in words.  

The making of Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) Cheese starts with the milk being delivered from the dairy and placed in these large containers to bring the temperature up to begin the curdling process. They separate the cream from the milk and sell the cream to make butter. 
It is then heated and stirred in these copper pots until the whey and curd separate. It begins to change color from white to a light golden color.   
After several other steps, a big ball of cheese forms in the bottom of these vats.
They strain it in linen cloths.
A powder rennin is added to help curdle the cheese. 

The ball of cheese is cut into 2 halves,wrapped in linen and hung for a while to drain.
Each of these balls makes one large wheel of cheese.  This plant makes 10 to 15 per day, 7 days a week. 
After most of the liquid has drained off, the cheese ball is lifted (it is very heavy) into the round plastic form.

The cheese is now in the plastic form and she is very carefully tightening  and straightening out the linen cloth around it.  

It is then kept in these metal containers until it loses enough of its moisture  that it will hold its shape when standing alone.
Then it is stored in this salt water for one month.   The water is changed only about once every  THREE years!!!
It is then stored on wooded shelves to finish the curing process.  When complete it is inspected for quality.  If it passes all the test then a stamp is burned into the side.  Each of these rounds of cheese, if stamped as the best quality, is worth about $900.00 U. S. 

We next visited a processor of Prosciutto Parma Ham.   It is also specific to this area.  Only certain pigs, 9 months of age, and only the legs are used for this.  Every step of this process, from the time the baby pigs are born to the finished product, is very closely regulated. 
There were probably 500 of these hanging to be trimmed and processed.  Each has to be trimmed and rubbed with a mixture of lard, pepper and salt around the area of exposed meat to prevent spoilage and bacterial growth. 
When the curing process is completed, an inspector checks each ham using an instrument made from a specific bone from a horses leg.  It is porous and allows the smell to soak into the bone.  The inspector can tell its quality by the smell. 
If it passes all inspections, it is given these 2 stamps. 

We next visited a winery and producer of balsamic vinegar.  The vinegar is first stored in old wine barrels because  the acidity left from the wine starts the fermentation process.
As it ferments and reduces, it is moved gradually from the bigger barrels to the smaller ones. The wood the barrels are made from give it specific flavors.--Cherry wood, Chestnut, oak etc.

The balsamic vinegar in the aging process takes a minimum of 14 years for the first batch to be ready to enjoy.   Each barrel is left open on the top and the opening just covered with a small white piece of linen cloth to keep out bugs, dust, etc.

It is then stored in the barrels in a specific room---upstairs--because  it needs the changes in temperature from cold to hot--winter to summer to complete the process.   

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