How Mountain Parm is Made
Although many cheeses tout themselves as Parmesan, the true test of a quality Mountain Parm is in its craftsmanship, its premium ingredients and its signature nutty flavour and crystal texture.
How experts determine what cheese makes the grade all comes down to a metal hammer. Tapping wheels of cheese after they’ve aged for 12 months allows cheesemakers to listen for air pockets or cracks, which would render the cheese imperfect. Wheels identified as flawed are gouged across the rind to prevent them from being sold as Parmigiano Reggiano. Wheels of Mountain Parm are visited again at 24 months for an additional test with the hammer. The final test is a spot-check tasting by an expert panel, ensuring top quality.
Like many of the world’s finest foods, Parmigiano Reggiano follows strictly enforced Protected Designation of Origin criteria, a quality guarantee demonstrating that this is an authentic cheese made in a specific part of Northern Italy to a specified recipe. With Mountain Parm, the cheese’s terroir, or taste of place, comes from a variety of factors: the cows eat only grass or hay from the Apennine Mountains, known to help them produce extra rich, flavourful milk; the cheese is produced at elevations of at least 500 metres; and wheels are aged in the mountains for at least 12 months.
From milk to merchant, every step along the way guarantees customers a quality Mountain Parm:
After the cows go down to rest in the evening, their rich, floral-tasting milk does, too: it is stored overnight in large vats to allow the fat to rise to the surface.
The next morning, the rested milk is skimmed, poured into bell-shaped cauldrons and transformed into curd with the addition of rennet and fermented whey.
A specialty tool called a spina breaks the curd into fine granules, which are then cooked at up to 55°C.
The curds are then rested, cut, wrapped and moulded by an expert cheesemaker.
A saltwater bath kickstarts the maturation process, then the cheese takes a well-deserved rest. Most Parmigiano Reggiano matures for 18 to 24 months, but our Mountain Parm ages for 30 months to produce its signature flavour and texture.
A colour-coded system of seals indicates the cheese’s age: red signifies a Parmigiano Reggiano that has matured for at least 18 months, silver identifies a 22-month-or-older cheese, and gold is reserved for cheeses matured over 30 months.
Cutting and Storing
Time to cut into those beauties! After tracing a long groove across the top and down the sides of the wheel with a short, pointed, almond-shaped knife, the cheesemonger uses two knives as wedges to split the cheese wheel into two pieces—a task best left to the experts, as each wheel can weigh 40 kilograms and be valued in the thousands of dollars. Each piece is then broken down into smaller wedges using variations of the same method, and packaged so they’re ready for you to place in your cart. Just-cracked cheese delivers the best, most flavourful eating experience, like a just-picked tomato from your garden.
After bringing your perfect wedge home, proper storage is crucial to maintain the cheese’s peak flavour. Protect it from absorbing the smell of last night’s dinner and other fridge odours by using food-grade plastic wrap or a resealable plastic bag. Store Parmigiano Reggiano in the refrigerator, between 4°C and 8°C. For the best flavour and texture, slice or grate Mountain Parm only as needed.
Ideas for Using Mountain Parm
Mountain Parm is a kitchen staple that boosts the flavour of many favourite dishes, and there are plenty of ways it can make supper special. Whether it’s slivered or grated as a topping or served in chips or chunks, here are some ways to enjoy this special cheese.
- Serve nuggets of Mountain Parm on a cheeseboard, drizzled with an aged balsamic vinegar or your favourite honey. Pair with an amber to dark beer or a glass of Barolo or Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Mountain Parm boosts the flavour of savoury baked goods, such as Scones.
- You can also use grated Mountain Parm to make satisfyingly crunchy grain-free cracker alternatives, like edible bowls, such as in this recipe for Cucumber & Tomato Salad in Parmesan Bowls. (Get creative and make snack-size versions of the recipe using a mini muffin tin, for tasty finger food.)
- Slivers of Mountain Parm are a flavourful topping for beef carpaccio or roast beef. Be sure to finish the dish with a drizzle of your best olive oil.
- Stir grated Mountain Parm into grain dishes, like this Sage & Parmesan Barley Stuffing, the perfect side for roast turkey or chicken.
- Shaved Mountain Parm is a classic spaghetti topping, but it also goes well on top of pizza and flatbread, like in this recipe for Chicken Parmesan Pizza with Fresh Fruit & Watercress.
- For the ultimate flavour boost, top salads and cooked vegetables with shavings of Mountain Parm (use your vegetable peeler).
- Make it a dressing: shave Mountain Parm into a classic vinaigrette with lemon juice and mustard.
- At the end of the day, when you’ve enjoyed every last bite of your Mountain Parm, don’t forget to save the rind: pop it in to simmer with your soups, stews, stocks and braised dishes to boost their mouthwatering savoury flavours.