Not All Parm is Created Equal: Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano

Not All Parm is Created Equal: Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano

Not all Parm is created equal. And the Parmigiano Reggiano aged by the Cravero family is one of the best — a wheel that we at Dedalus always have in stock, because it’s just incredible. We snack on it, cook with it, and share it with friends. It will always have a place in our refrigerators, and we’ll crack it open to tell the story of its makers, and the tradition it comes from, any chance we get.

The Tradition

The Cravero family has been aging wheels of their iconic Parm amidst the stunning mountain landscape of Bra since 1855 — that’s over 160 years. Impressive, especially for a cheese that’s been around for almost 800 years.

Originally produced by monks in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, the first recorded sale of Parmigiano Reggiano was made in 1254. By the 16th century, wheels of Parmigiano were exported all across Europe; inspired by its rapid rise in popularity, copycat cheeses began to spring up.

In an effort to protect the name of Parmigiano Reggiano from its less-revered competitors, Ranuccio I Farnese, Duke of Parma, issued one of the earliest known Designation of Origin decrees in European history.

On August 7, 1612, the Duke listed the only legal production sites for the cheese, which still hold today: Reggio-Emilia, Parma, parts of Bologna and Manuta, and Modena. The modern governing body of Parmigiano Reggiano production, called the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano (whose tagline in English reads, boldly, “the only Parmesan”), was formed in 1954, and in 1996, Reggiano was granted the European Union’s official PDO seal.

A Whole Other Level of Parm

Even under the strict guidelines of the Consorzio, not all Parm is created equal. While production is mostly dominated by large dairies producing hundreds of wheels a week, there are still small community creameries dedicated to perfecting their heritage processes.

Fifth-generation master affineur Giorgio Cravero prefers to source his wheels from someone like that, someone who cares more about the quality of the cheese than pumping out as many wheels as possible. So he works with cheesemaker Massimo Libra, who grazes his cows high in the mountains of Benedello di Pavullo. 

Massimo believes that the unique mountain grazing produces intensely terroir-driven wheels of Parm, and the Consorzio agrees. Of the 353 official makers of Parmigiano Reggiano, only 30 can stamp their wheels with the Prodotto di Montagna seal, a designation reserved for only the best, high-altitude cheese. Massimo is one of them. 

The Aging

After a year of development in Massimo's creamery, Giorgio selects his wheels and brings them back to his centuries-old aging facility nestled in the mountains of Bra. That’s when the magic starts.

Giorgio is out to make Parm as you’ve never had before, and his aging process is exacting and intense. He ages for peak flavor and texture, rather than an arbitrary number of years, eschewing the traditional belief that older is inherently better.

The 80-pound wheels rest on traditional, native pine boards and are flipped multiple times each week to ensure even consistent development. At 12 and 14 months, Giorgio and his team test for faults by tapping each wheel with a specialized hammer. At the two-year mark, they taste test the batch and let some wheels age longer if needed.

How to Enjoy It

As a whole, Parmigiano Reggiano producers make about 3.7 million wheels each year. Giorgio is responsible for 5,000 of them — less than .0015% of the global market. The U.S. only receives 1,000 of these wheels annually.

All that to say, Giorgio knows where his Reggiano is going. He knows the people caring for and selling it, visiting the U.S. a few times a year when he’s able. He’s invested in spreading the word of Parm as a snacking cheese, insisting you forget about that bag of pre-grated stuff in your local grocery.

These wheels are stunning, iconic representations of this ancient style. Intensely fragrant with a rich, luscious mouthfeel, flavors of fresh cream and pineapple round out with a sweet, toasty finish. We particularly like it with a refreshing glass of dry Lambrusco, although Giorgio insists that it’s best enjoyed unadorned with a bottle of sparkling white wine, like Edi Kante's crisp Carso sparkling from neighboring Friuli.