Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

The Making of Mighty — How Land and Hand Make Parmigiano Reggiano King

Is it nature or nurture that gives the mighty Parmigiano Reggiano the intensity, complexity and sheer size of flavor that has earned it the title King of Cheese? Turns out it’s both.

The Land

The cradle of cheese royalty can be found in only one place — the fertile, green Po River Valley in northern Italy. Here, cows dine only on grasses and clovers, creating the perfectly flavored milk used by the cheesemakers. If it’s not from Po, it’s not Parmigiano Reggiano.

For more than 1,000 years, hot summers, cool winters and rainy springs have shaped the unique aging conditions for each grand wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. Summer heat intensifies flavors, while cooler months give the cheese time to set and come into its own.

Sea salt from the nearby Mediterranean or Adriatic imparts that crowning richness.

The Hand

Every day of the year, since the 1300s (and likely much earlier!), cheesemakers have been handcrafting small batches of Parmigiano Reggiano in the same traditional way.

Each dairy milks its cows twice a day. Evening milk sits overnight to concentrate flavors and allow the cream to rise and separate. Once the night milk is skimmed, the morning’s whole milk is added. This process is unique to Parmigiano Reggiano.

Whole Foods Market cheesebuyers visit each dairy and select wheels made only with spring and fall milk. We think this brings out the richest flavors in the cheese.

Copper vats, able to quickly heat and cool, hold the milk for stirring, settling and heating, as they have done for hundreds of years.

The royal bath. A day or two after the wheels have taken form, they receive a brine bath. Several days of salty soaking allow saline crystals to ease their way in and around the cheese, forming the rind.

“Two summers” is the traditional mantra of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheesemaker. The belief is that one summer’s heat energizes enzymes, kick-starting their flavor-enhancing work. The next summer takes those flavors to the intensely complex, nutty, sweet, grassy, creamy heights the cheese is known for.

We couldn’t agree more, which is why our stores only carry Parmigiano Reggiano that has aged 24 months.

The royal insignia. You know the authentic King of Cheese when you see it — every wheel has “Parmigiano Reggiano” imprinted on the rind in pin dots. Wheels destined for Whole Foods Markets are also hot-branded, telling you the cheese within is of the highest export-only quality.

Why are you a fan of Parmigiano Reggiano? Let me know in the comments below.