At Mongers, we aim to take you on a journey. Often that results in us hanging out in rarefied or esoteric spaces. We are all about showing people raw milk sheep cheeses from the Pyrenees, natural wines from the country of Georgia, or chocolate made from cacao harvested in a Venezuelan village only accessible by boat. While this is always fun and exciting, I for one get a unique thrill from showing people the best version of something that feels accessible. A cheddar that blows your hair back or a 70% chocolate bar harvested in Jamaica that reminds you of brownie batter. What I want to talk about today is somewhere between these two concepts. It is accessible but it is also fairly rarefied. Today I want to talk about the “King of Cheese”, Parmigiano Reggiano!
For years now we have only had one version of this cheese. Currently we have begun an experiment, can we sell two varieties of a cheese that people think of as a single cheese? These two cheeses have nothing to do with green shaker cans! They represent a special place on earth, specifically two different sights within the region but I am getting carried away with myself. Let's begin by talking about Parmigiano Reggiano on a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) level.
Less than 3000 milk producers give their milk to around 300 dairies who are responsible for making roughly 4 million wheels of cheese a year. True Parmigiano Reggiano is produced only in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna west of the Reno river, and Mantua south of the Po river. Whether you believe this cheese to be an Italian original, or an homage to the Swiss Sbrinz, its roots of this cheese go back to the 1200’s. In 1934, representatives from the various dairies in the area agreed to the need to create a mark indicating the authenticity of their cheese. It was not until 1954 that the Consortium that we know now was formed.
It takes 520 liters or 137.6 gallons of raw milk to produce one wheel of cheese. The cows for this cheese must be fed a natural diet of local forage, grass, and hay. These cheeses are hand-made and then aged for at least 12 months. Each wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano is 80 - 100 lbs.
Now let's talk about our two wheels! The wheels we get are always at least 24 months and sometimes as old as 30 months. The one we have been carrying since we were able to afford our first wheel, is Cravero’s Parmigiano Reggiano from Essex Cheese. I have had the privilege of being in this facility and meeting Giorgio Cravero personally. The passion they have for their craft is as apparent as the pride they have in their family’s heritage in the Parmigiano Reggiano world. The Cravero family ages all of their cheese in Bra since 1855. The wheels Giorgio and his team age for us come from Caseificio Sociale San Pietro, where Massimo, the cheese maker, is able to make approx seven wheels a day. San Pietro is at a high enough elevation that after 24 months of aging it gets a special designation as a Prodotto di Montagna (a product of the mountains). There are only a few dozen makers that get to enjoy the lusher higher elevation pastures for their cheese. These wheels rest on pine boards and are flipped regularly. These factors along with countless others that have been shared over the six generations result in a Parmigiano that is like no other we have ever had. It is more of a table cheese than something you want to grate over pasta. It's soft, buttery, and very special!
With a cheese like the one I described above, why bring in another? Well most people like grating their Parmigiano Reggiano. We want to offer you a cheese at a lower price, and one that carries more savory notes. Something that provides great contrast with a red sauce. Enter farm #700 and the Colla family. In the province of Piacenza, what began in 1921 continues to grow and be refined. Producing approximately 12 wheels of Parmigiano a day, these cheeses are still considered a small family-operation, especially when you look at some of the larger players in the region. These cheeses also carry a special designation, known as “Export” quality Parmigiano Reggiano, meaning they were checked at 18 months of aging and classified as “first grade”.
While we know you have heard of Parmigiano Reggiano, we would love to invite you to try these two cheeses. Even better, try them side by side. Both of these creameries represent a fraction of a percentage of the total Parmigiano made. We are really eating the top 1%, the best of the best of what this prestigious PDO has to offer.
We at Mongers are incredibly proud of both of these cheeses. They both represent relationships that I’ve had in the industry for over a decade. I believe that Parmigiano epitomizes our mission statement “We seek to strengthen connections between friends, and build connections to places and people near and far”. So please bring family or friends together. Eat some chunks of Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano. Grate some of the Colla family’s Parmigiano Reggiano on some pasta. We hope you will see, while it is one region there are many expressions of the “King of Cheese”!