We set out before the sun rose.
The early hour was necessary. To see how Parmigiano-Reggiano is made, you must arrive when the cows’ milk arrives. Only fresh milk goes into making Parmigiano-Reggiano – the real Parmesan that is made in Parma, Italy.
I was with Patricia, a Brazilian travel blogger whom I had met in Bologna. We had already seen the origins of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. This time we were taking the train to Parma, following our tastebuds to the source of the Emilia-Romagna region’s famous cheese.
Parma has ham as well, of course, but being vegetarian this was not of interest to me. Incidentally, as you will see further down, there is much more than food in Parma.
Tour of Parmigiano-Reggiano Dairy
In most cases, a cheese producer is a company that buys milk from many farmers and makes cheese. In the case of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the farmers are the producers. The facilities and cheese makers are owned and managed by a cooperative of farmers. The reason for this is terroir.
Terroir refers to the unique properties that the geography, climate, geology, and plants… of a place have on the taste of food. The terroir of one farm is different from another and, therefore, the milk of the cows on those farms and the cheese that is produced from that milk is different as well. The difference may be subtle, (not necessarily something that I can detect) but it is there and this is why the farmers are the producers. In the production process, milks from the different farms are not mixed together. Each goes into a separate vat. Each is tracked through the production process. This is the difference between Parmigiano-Reggiano which is monitored by the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano and parmesan from manufacturing facilities.
To learn more about Parmigiano-Reggiano and the free tours that are available you can download this booklet from the Consorzio here. The dairies are located out of town but you can arrange for a taxi to pick you up from the train station and take you there.
History at the Palazzo della Pilotta and the Teatro Farnese
The town of Parma is small and quaint and has much to offer besides cheese . We focused on the old city center where the Palazzo della Pilotta which was built in the 1500s is located. The Palazzo holds the National Archaeological Museum, the Scuola d’Arte Toschi, the Palatine Library, the Museo Bodoniano, the National Gallery of Parma and the Teatro Farnese. Yes, there’s far too much there for one day.
I focused on two things. Before entering the Palazzo I was taken with its exterior. As you can see below, the building is nicely finished but it doesn’t make sense. What wasn’t there was a hint as to what once was and what might have happened. A bit of research revealed that the building was badly damaged during World War II. I soon learned that the Teatro was as well.
But what I saw when entering the Teatro was an elegant Italian Baroque theater in perfect condition. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1962. Some consider this to be the first proscenium arch theater which is our standard theater architectural format today. It contains the action on the stage inside a frame so that what divides the audience and the stage is a sort of 4th wall, as it is known. I had never thought of there being a first proscenium theater before. Standing in this magnificent space, breathing the air of centuries of theater felt magical. Alas, it was rarely used as a theater but rather, on occasion only, for ducal marriages and state visits.
Our final stop on the day tour of Parma was to The Birth Place Museum Toscanini. It’s a small museum and only requires an hour of your time. It’s also very quiet. When we were there, it was only us and a family which arrived shortly after us. As a result, all of us received special treatment as we were given an especially extensive tour through the museum and given details of the great conductor’s early life.
My thanks to the Emilia-Romagna Tourism Board here for supporting Blogville – a place for bloggers to stay while exploring the region. You can read what other bloggers have written about their stay here.
Get lots more on the Emilia-Romagna region from this ebook.