Only very specific areas - 5 provinces in total - in the entire region of Emilia-Romagna are allowed to produce parmigiano-reggiano, otherwise the cheese cannot be granted this prestigious name.
The region where parmesan is made is Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy. The cheese's actual name is parmigiano-reggiano, referring to the two main provinces where it is, or to be more accurate, where it can be produced: Parma and Reggio Emilia. Indeed, only very specific areas - 5 provinces in total - in the entire region of Emilia-Romagna are allowed to produce parmigiano-reggiano, otherwise the cheese cannot be granted this prestigious name.
The reason why the cheese cannot be made anywhere else in the world is that the topography and weather of these provinces make up an ideal and unique environment for parmesan-making. Parma was, 60 million years ago, submerged under the sea. Because of that, it is today a huge fertile but swampy area, allowing the growth of the specific type of grass needed to feed cows, who in turn produce the right milk for parmigiano-reggiano. The presence of the river Po creates a hazy weather throughout the year, which helps maintaining this kind of terrain. And due to the retreat of the sea, the area has many salt mines offering the precious Italian salt so vital to parmigiano-reggiano.
The tradition of parmesan-making in the region is very old, going a good thousand years back. The first dairy for parmesan-making was established by monks in 1204 AD, and before that the region was already producing other kinds of cheeses. Today, the region produces about 3 million parmesan wheels per year, and each wheel costs about 500 Euros. The production of slow foods like parmigiano-reggiano is central to Emilia-Romagna's economy.
Parmigiano-reggiano is a DOC product - an Italian label to mean 'controlled designation of origin' - and a PDO (protected designation of origin) product in the EU, giving it and Italy immense power in the European food market. A special seal is placed around the parmesan wheel and taken out after a while; the resulting inscriptions engraved on the cheese are proof of its origin and certification. You should be able to read the date of production, the number of the dairy from which the milk was taken, the wheel code and the ageing time - so now you know if you are buying a real parmigiano-reggiano or one of the many 'copied' ones.
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