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Same old same old ... Part 1 - Parmesan and ricotta

Every day - 365 days a year - for I don't know how many years now, this lady makes ricotta twice a day, and helps her husband make Parmigiano Reggiano. They live in a small town called Sant'Antonio in Emilia Romagna in Italy.

In 2014 we stayed in a beautiful house outside a tiny village called Coscogno just above Sant'Antonion, and our wonderful hostess - a Danish lady - organised for us to visit their little factory - if you can call it that - to see them make the Parmiggiano and the ricotta. We arrived at 7.00 am I seem to remember and they had been working for hours already. When we arrived they were about to lift the Parmesan from the copper vat. Below is a video I took of them doing it, and below that another one of them lifting one round into a mould to drain. Please excuse the quality of the videos - they were my first attempt at taking a video.

The most impressive thing about this whole operation was not just the sheer magic of the cheese appearing from the whey, but the weight they must have had to lift. I think they had three vats, each with two wheels of Parmesan in each one, which I have a vague memory weighed 25kg each. Or would it have been 50kg? Surely not. Once drained the Parmesan is soaked in brine for a while - I'm afraid I cannot remember how long - compressed in a mould, and then stored on shelves for up to 18 months I believe. It has to be turned every day, which used to be done by hand but which is now done by hand.

And here is the final product with all of its official stamps of approval - they don't get these until they have been inspected.

And whilst the husband cleaned up the tanks ready for the next lot at the other end of the day - the whole process begins again after the cows have been milked at the end of the day - the wife made the ricotta, and then went to their little shop to sell it.

Honestly it was a privilege to experience this - of course we bought as much cheese as we could hope to consume for the rest of the holiday. But what a life. Every day, exactly the same thing and so physically demanding. At the time my Italian was pretty rudimentary so I was not able to have much of a conversation, although our Danish guide did some translating for us. The wife was becoming tired of it all I think, and was talking about retirement in a few years. Imagine - no holidays, not even any day trips. One had the impression there were no other staff. Her release was to grow the beautiful flowers she had in front of this very ordinary little place on a very ordinary main road in a pretty ordinary village.

But behind those ordinary doors magic happens. And one, no two, of the world's greatest cheeses - two that none of us can do without these days - is made. I so hope that they were able to escape at last.

I was going to write a rather more general piece about same old, same old ..., and I will, but starting out with the example of this hard-working couple, made me realise that I ought to pay them the homage they deserve with a whole post. It was one of my best ever holiday experiences, and one that David missed out on because he didn't want to get up that early. I think the name - as shown on the wall above the shop is Coop Casearia, and it still seems to be listed as a genuine Parmiggiano Reggiano.

We never saw any of the cows that produced the milk that results in Parmiggiano Reggiano. They are not out in the fields, but kept in large sheds. Another miracle hidden behind nondescript walls.

It all goes to prove that the greatest food does not come without very hard work and a lot of sacrifice. I just hope they made a lot of money out of it.


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