Parma, it’s not just about cheese

What are the three most counterfeited goods from the European Union? Three of them are right here in Parma: Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and balsamic vinegar. 

I love balsamic vinegar. But I never knew what aged balsamic vinegar tasted like until today. We were supposed to go on a tour with Laura, but she sent her  friend Marco. Lucky us! Marco owns ACETAIA PICCI in Cavriago, near Reggio Emilia. Marco inherited the balsamic business from his father. It is run from his family compound where his father and mother still live. Marco proudly took us through the process of making balsamic vinegar. Grapes are cooked, then fermented and aged in progressively smaller casks made of chestnut, mulberry, oak, juniper and cherry for at least 12 years.

Only balsamic vinegar made in the Reggio Emilia and Modena provinces can be called “aceto balsamico tradizionale.” And before that happens the producer has to take the vinegar to a board where it is evaluated by five people. The rating of the board determines whether the vinegar may be sold to the public. If they say it is not ready, and this is after a minimum of twelve years, take it home and age it some more!

Making this vinegar is an art that requires patience. It’s all about aging.  A 100 ml bottle of real balsamic vinegar costs more than any bottle of wine I’ve ever tried. Amazing!


Casks are everywhere.
We sampled 12, 20 and 25 year-old vinegars.

Cheese, cheese and more cheese….

Parmesan is made only in northern Italy  in the areas of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Moderna, Mantua and Bologna.  By law only cheese made in these provinces may be labelled Parmigiano Reggiano.

At 6 AM milk is put into large trays to separate the cream, which is removed and used to make butter. The skimmed milk placed into copper vats and heated. Rennet is added to curdle the milk.

About two hours later, workers use muslin to scoop out the curds.
   They divide it in two, tie it in the muslin and hang it for ten minutes. 

  Then it is placed in molds. Inside the molds are plastic forms that look like Braille. They imprint the cheese with the dot pattern, the cheese house’s unique number and the month and year of production.


The cheese rests for two days.


Then they are immersed in salt baths for about twenty days.


The wheels are moved into the warehouse to age.

 After a year a member of the consortium visits after to inspect and approve each cheese. If the cheese doesn’t pass inspection, the markings on rind are scraped off so it can’t be passed off as Parmesan.

A hammer is used by the consortium member to tap on the cheese. They can tell if it’s good by the way it sounds! 


The cheese is the burned with the consortium label and left to age longer. Voila!

Yummo Parma Ham

Also on our tour was a small producer of Parma ham. They also make many other products from the pig. They use every bit of the pig. The oblong ones in the middle are neck meat. 

The legs of the pigs are first salted in a cold room.   

Next they move to another room to hang, along with other meat products. I must say the smell in that room was horrendous!


The meat exposed part of the ham are sealed with fat.


The sealed legs are hung in the drying room for one to three years.  

These three industries are very regulated and only high quality products get the stamp of approval. We have all had what we thought was Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar, but the look carefully at the labels. Probably not, if for no othe reason, the expense!


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