Saving Parmesan Cheese

On 20 May 2012, Italy was hit by a devastating earthquake, causing loss of life, and damaging historic towns across the Emilia-Romagna region. As the towns struggle to repair and restore the lives, buildings and businesses affected, there is one campaign hoping to help the recovery of one of Italy’s most distinguished culinary products – parmigiano reggiano.

Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) is a traditional raw milk cheese from the region, and one of the great world heritage foods, mentioned by Boccacio in the decameron as early as 1348. It takes 24 months for the cheese to be aged and certified suitable for sale under the PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) brand. During this time the quality of the cheese is testified and turned in large kilo wheels in order to ensure even distribution.

In the Emilia Romagna region Parmigiano-Reggiano is part of an intensive agricultural community, from the farmers growing grass to feed the cattle, to the producers, packagers, testers and exporters. The whey left over from manufacturing is fed to the pigs bred to become Parma ham.

The earthquake damaged a number of factories and storage facilities, with approximately 10% of the annual production damaged. This represents a huge financial and personal investment for the producers who rely on the cheese they are in the process of aging to secure loans. It is estimated it will take two years to repair the damage in a country already suffering the brunt of the Eurozone crisis.

Visiting Italy as a child, I relished the opportunity to eat my body weight in Parmesan, as it was still very prohibitively expensive in Ireland. Indulgent waiters would not bat an eyelid when I ordered chunks of it as a starter in restaurants. When I saw the Save-A- Cheese campaign, this seemed like a win-win situation. Help the stricken manufacturers get back on their feet, and acquire some reasonably priced Parmigiano-Reggiano. I spoke to John Savage-Onstwedder who is running the campaign in the UK and Ireland, following a successful campaign by manufacturers in Holland. The orders will be packaged and distributed by post in October, with a kilo costing £22 including post and packaging (it currently retails at £31.65 per kilo on http://www.ocado.com so buying through saveacheese provides a good saving). The cheese is certified and fully aged. The cost covers transport and packaging, and the rest of the money is given directly to the manufacturer with €1 per kilo going to a central fund run by the Parmigiano-Reggiano consortium.

To find out more about the campaign and to help get Italy’s heritage cheese manufacturers back in business check out the Save -A-  Cheese website

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