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Cheese For Good

by | 25 October 2021

If you’re like me, you may have occasionally tucked into a few chunks of month-old cheese from the back of the fridge when you get back late. But how about nibbling on one that’s been around for 21 years?

Well you’ve now got the chance to bid at auction on a 21-year-old wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano – one of the oldest edible cheeses in the world – at the World Cheese Awards, taking place as part of the International Cheese Festival in Oviedo, Spain from 3rd– 6th November.

The auction will be open to anyone worldwide who would like to place a bid (or make a donation) through online platform Givergy, from 27th October – 6th November.

As well as the chance to top your spag bol with some seriously special cheese, if you’re the lucky winner of the auction – and please don’t expect this to cost you the same as your supermarket finest parmesan wedge – you will also be helping two charitable projects chosen by the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, an association of dairies in the region that promote the cheese in Italy and abroad.

The first is Aiutiamo il mondo di Padre Marco Canovi (“Let’s help the world by Father Marco Canovi”). Father Marco Canovi has dedicated his life to humanitarian work in Uganda. He is passionate about providing education and a better quality of life for children and young people and has built both primary and secondary schools in the region. Above all, the aim of his mission is to improve agricultural conditions by excavating wells, constructing drip irrigation systems, and cultivating the land. His mission in the Karamoja region, has been to help local farmers create and prosper from their plantations of maize, vegetables, fruit, and other crops.

The second charity to get money from the cheese sale is Mama Sofia, founded by Zakaria Seddiki, wife of the late ambassador to Congo, Luca Attanasio, who was brutally murdered there in February 2021. The Mama Sofia organisation supports women and families in situations of serious hardship in the Congo by providing healthcare, clean water, and school books for children. This initiative is also directly supported by La Forma Del Cuore (“The shape of the heart”), a project created by the Nazionale del Parmigiano Reggiano alongside the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium. Proceeds from the auction will support the Mama Sofia Medical Centre – the first medical centre dedicated to combat malnutrition in Boma. The centre will guarantee medical support for at least 100 children every year.

How is the cheese made?

The Wonder Wheel

This wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the first of its kind. The minimum maturation period of a Parmesan wheel is 12 months, after which every individual wheel is quality-checked by a member of the Consortium. However, no maximum age has ever been set, with 24-, 36-, 40-, and 48-month Parmigiano Reggiano widely available. As every age acquires unexpected and unparalleled aromas and flavours, a 21-year-old wheel of cheese is expected to be amber straw yellow with an intense toasted smell. The aromatic analysis should highlight typical leather, underwood, truffle, and smoky notes. The cheese will probably have a special structure: dry, very crumbly, and soluble. Sounds tasty.

Erio Bertani with the wheel

Erio Bertani with the wheel

The cheese wheel was produced in April 2000 by the Latteria di Tabiano dairy when it was under the leadership of the late Erio Bertani. It was one of the first wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano to be awarded the prestigious “Quality of the Mountain” status by the Conva Consortium, which is responsible for the safeguarding and promotion of products from the Apennines. The wheel was then purchased by Erio Bertani himself, who kept it in his warehouse until 2018, when his wife, Susetta Sforacchi, children, and the Nazionale Parmigiano Reggiano decided to donate it to charity in his memory.

The cheese wheel will be on display at the International Cheese Festival and the World Cheese Awards. You won’t be able to snack on the wheel itself, but there will be plenty of other sampling opportunities at the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium stand. Who knows, perhaps you might even be able to smuggle in a box of spag bol to make the most of it.

About Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the oldest and richest cheeses in the world, which is essentially still produced today with the same craftsmanship and production techniques that were used nearly 1,000 years ago.

As a product with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, Parmigiano Reggiano is governed by strict specifications registered within the European Union. These also bind it to its area of origin, as it can only be made in a small area of northern Italy, including the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and parts of Mantua and Bologna.

Parmigiano Reggiano is made with only three ingredients (milk, salt, and rennet), no additives or preservatives, and is naturally lactose free. Its minimum maturation period is 12 months, but Parmigiano Reggiano typically expresses its full characteristics at 24 months, which is the age most commonly sold at UK supermarkets.

The Consorzio del Parmigiano Reggiano is a protection body comprised of all producers of the cheese, which defends and safeguards Parmesan from imitation. An expert from the Consortium also quality checks every wheel of cheese at the age of 12 months, fire-branding it with the official Parmigiano Reggiano mark if it passes this inspection.


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