We spent one night in Parma, of which the highlight was the tour of the parmigiano-reggiano cheese factory. The particular one that we saw was run by a consortium of 4 or 5 farms, which provided the milk from a very particular kind of grass-fed cow. I think Kathleen summed it up best: no wonder the real stuff is so expensive.
The factory is run by a team of four, of which two are working at any one time. They work from 3 a.m. until 8 p.m. seven days a week, 365 days a year, with just one two hour siesta in the afternoon. The cheese which basically takes a month to make must be aged a year to be officially considered parmigiano-reggiano cheese and two or three years to garner more money. The cheese itself doesn’t have any particular taste until it’s been brined in salt water for about 20 days.
Patrick and I are big consumers of parmigiano cheese and we’ve been eating parma ham throughout the trip, but what we didn’t realize until the tour was that parma ham owed its existence to the cheese. In the cheese making process, there is a tremendous amount of whey that factories are left with. The solution: keeping pigs and feeding them whey mixed with grains. Our guide told us that every cheese factory has a pig farm that is attached. The factories feed the whey to the pigs, which then develop the sweet flavor that parma ham is known for. They then sell them to the ham producers after 10 months, which allows them to supplement their income. Brilliant.