How They Make Parmigiano in Parma


parmigiano reggiano

On my recent trip to Parma, Italy — with a wonderful group of food enthusiast travelers — we got to see up close and first-hand how true parmigiano reggiano is made.


my group at the parmigiano reggiano factory

Parmesan is not parmigiano reggiano. Only the cheese made in the region of Emilia, in Parma, from very special cows, and stamped parmigiano reggiano is the real thing.

We witnessed the new milk, delivered that morning, swirling in huge heated copper vats.


After rennet is added, just a couple of hours later, the workmen pull a 200-lb. ball of cheese from the whey.

They cut that huge wad of goodness in two. And each of those halves (100 lbs. each) becomes a wheel of parmigiano.


At first it sits in a plastic form, with a band surrounding it to imprint (like brail) the name parmigiano reggiano, and the number representing this particular facility/manufacturer.

Then it goes into a curved form, gets submerged in brined water for some days. And then left to dry and age for no less than 12 months.


parmigiano reggiano

At the end of the tour, we tasted the 12-month, 24-month, and 30-month cheese. Of course, we bought some to bring home. Prices from this manufacturer were so modest. After all, we were right there– right there where they made the cheese. In the beautiful countryside of Parma.


Parma Countryside

Our guide had just recently gained access to this facility. So our tour felt super-exclusive. If you are ever in the area do look up Stefania Bertaccini. She knows all about Parma’s wonderful products, can guide you on tours, and host/teach fabulous cooking classes.

Got Garganelli?


fresh-made garganelli

I have a lot of favorite pasta shapes…fusilli lunghi, orecchiette, linguine, bucatini…but these days I’m in love with garganelli.

Lots of Italians believe some shapes only go with some sauces and some shapes would never go with other sauces. i.e. orecchiette is great with broccoli rabe and sausage; linguine with a clam sauce; bucatini with the Sicilian “pasta con le sarde” (sardines) sauce.

Garganelli might typically marry with cream and prosciutto, or hang out with a duck ragu, but coat it with a fresh tomato sauce and it’s still says perfect. Originally from the Emilia-Romagna region (where I’m taking my cooking class students this year), it’s a hand-shaped pasta made from an egg pasta dough.

It’s easy to make. But you’ll need a gnocchi board. And a pencil, or not-too-thick dowel. Some gnocchi boards come with a dowel for making this pasta.


gnocchi boards (and one with a dowel for garganelli)

We made it my class this week and newbies became experts super-quick.


my class making garganelli

Full recipe below. I pair it with my other new favorite: artichoke & pancetta sauce. But here are some tips for making the garganelli shape.

After you roll out your dough to pretty thin (about a 4 on the pasta machine rollers), cut the dough into 1-1.5-inch squares. Lay the square, turned to look like a diamond, at one end of the gnocchi board.


rolling the dough

Lay the pencil or dowel at the tip nearest you and roll up the dough along the pencil, pressing it against the groves of the gnocchi board.

If it sticks to the board, add a little flour to the board and/or the dough piece. But not too much — you want the dough ends to stick together.

They’re super-fun to make, and I LOVE the taste. Yes, I do think that different pasta shapes, despite the sauce they’re in, taste differently. Just chewing through a forkful of spaghetti strands makes a different eating experience than a few penne in your mouth.

I hope you’ll try it — and if you do — let me know how it goes!


garganelli fresh-made


garganelli w artichoke-pancetta sauce

Fresh Garganelli Pasta w Roman Artichoke & Pancetta Sauce

For the Pasta: 

2 cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

3 eggs, lightly beaten

For the Sauce:

12 ounces, frozen artichoke hearts, thawed

olive oil for sautéing, plus more for drizzling

1 large shallot, peeled and diced

4 ounces pancetta, diced

1/4 cup heavy cream

salt & pepper to taste

Make the Pasta:

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Create a “well” in the middle of the flour and add the eggs. Using a fork slowly mix the flour into the egg, until the dough comes together and all the flour is mixed in. Gather the dough and knead it on a lightly floured surface. If it’s too sticky add a little flour. Knead for about 5 minutes until smooth. Shape into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest at room temp for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into four pieces. Work with one piece at a time and keep the other pieces covered in plastic wrap. Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle, and roll through the pasta machine, changing the numbers from thick to thinner (lower to higher) one at a time until you reach the second to last setting.

Lay the sheet on a table. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut into 1 inch by 1 inch squares (doesn’t have to be perfect!) Turn square so that you’re looking at a diamond shape. Using a pencil (or other small wooden rod) gently fold the bottom point of the diamond around the pencil. Then lay pencil and dough on a gnocchi board. Roll up the rest of the dough onto the pencil while pressing it on the gnocchi board until you form a tube. Gently slide the tube off the pencil and repeat with the rest of the dough. Place finished garganelli on a floured sheet pan.

Make the Sauce:  Slice the artichokes hearts into 4 or 5 slices per heart. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the shallot and pancetta. Cook until shallot is softened and pancetta is cooked through. Add the sliced artichoke hearts. Add a little more olive oil if too dry. Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes on medium heat. Season with salt & pepper. Add cream and toss to coat.

When pasta is done, reserve a half cup of pasta water, then drain pasta and add pasta to skillet with artichoke sauce. Stir to coat pasta and cook for 2-3 minutes until flavors combine. Add a little pasta water if it needs moistening. Serve hot. Add some grated cheese to individual servings.

A Quick Recipe for Fresh Figs (They’re in season!)

Ripening fig in the backyard

Ripening fig in the backyard

I LOVE fresh figs. Night and day between fresh figs and dried figs. Different animals entirely. (Different taste, too.) Dried figs are tough, leathery, brown. Fresh figs, are soft, pink, luscious, Quite sensual, actually. We’ve got a fig tree in our backyard–not huge–but this is the first year more than three figs have ripened. I’m getting 5-6 spectacular figs a week.

But I remember a giant fig tree in Italy. As large as a 2-story building. It grew in the tiniest of hilltowns in Emilia Romagna. I was visiting a friend of the family, Marco, who lived in one room on the second floor of a small stone building. A single bed, nightstand, a few shelves of books, a hot plate with an espresso pot, and a heavy wooden dining table in the middle of the room were all the furniture and amenities he had. Downstairs in an adjacent building was a bathroom he shared with his parents who lived in the building across the way.

Dinner was brought up the steps on platters by his mother (remind me to tell you the mammoni story one day: about middle-aged Italian men who still live with their parents!). She brought a pile of locally made pasta in a deep delicious tomato sauce. And for dessert: a 5-inch high cake of fresh ricotta with local honey. And, of course, crusty bread.

As we sat at the table for a few hours, eating, drinking, and espresso then brewing, I was entranced by the open window. It framed the tall, full, laden-with-fruit fig tree. Next to it a bright street lamp lit the tree attracting moths. Bats zigzagged through the light, catching moths, while the fig tree stood witness to the splendid night (as did I).

Fresh Fig Recipe 1-2-3

5-6 fresh figs, cut in half or quarters if very large

1 cup mascarpone cheese

1/4 cup minced mint

1/4 cup honey

1/4 lb. thinly sliced prosciutto

salt to taste

Smear a little mascarpone on top of each cut fig piece. Sprinkle with a little salt. Sprinkle with some minced mint. Add a small dollop of honey. Wrap fig in a piece of prosciutto cut to fit the size of the fig piece. Serve.

Fig Tree

Fig Tree