Parmigiano Reggiano is made using a very small number of natural ingredients – only milk, whey from the previous day's cheesemaking, calf rennet and sea salt. It is a unique cheese, one whose manufacturing processes have no real parallels internationally. Each year, 1.8 million tonnes of milk are curdled into cheese, a number that would typically indicate industrial production, and yet Parmigiano Reggiano is resolutely a handmade cheese, made in only 363 small dairies. Parmigiano Reggiano is an extremely labour-intensive cheese to make. Were this quantity of cheese produced industrially, it would typically require 8000 people – Parmigiano Reggiano employs 50,000.
It has been made in the region for nine centuries, in the beginning by Benedictine monks, with the craft and its resulting cheese remaining essentially unchanged over that incredible length of time. The ritual gestures used to ‘cross’ the milk (pictured below) have their roots in the cheese's religious origins, even the temperature scale used to regulate the milk stems from the monks. These practices have been refined over the centuries and more recently limited technologies have mitigated some (but certainly not all) of the back-breaking labour, but Parmigiano Reggiano remains an artisan product, made with love, passion and total dedication by the casari, the cheesemakers who gently shape the milk into cheese.