We can safely say that the food of Reggio would never be the same without Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to enhance the flavour of both sophisticated and simple dishes. This cheese deserves its reputation as the best in the world, and boasts an illustrious heritage going back hundreds of years.
According to tradition it was “invented” more than seven centuries ago in the Enza valley, an area straddling Parma and Reggio, but actually in the diocese of Parma; this led to Parmigiano, as Boccaccio called the cheese, now universally recognized by this name.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a protein-rich, hard, semi-fat, cooked cheese that matures slowly. The large wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano (each weighing around 30 kg) are made in dairies according to a traditional method and technique that still demands the skills of the dairyman; the cheese is left to age for about two years, often in ultra-modern, climate-controlled warehouses run by the local banks who keep the cheese as security against loans granted to producers.
It is still mainly used for grating over food, especially pasta and soups: it is important to grate the cheese at the very last minute to get the best taste and aroma. But Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is a good all-rounder that can be served as slivers for a quick snack, perhaps with a drizzling of the best traditional balsamic vinegar from Reggio Emilia to lend a touch of excellence. You can also buy it directly from the dairies, ensuring considerable savings on shop prices.
You can watch a wheel of cheese being made and cooked over burning faggots, as in the past, at an old 18th century “dairy” at Aiola di Montecchio, on May 1st every year.
There is also a special logo for Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese made from the milk of the ancient breed of red dairy cow, the Rossa Reggiana, that has generally been replaced nowadays by more productive Friesian cows. In fact, a group of farmers formed a consortium to safeguard the excellence of this milk.