*****My $50 card to Whole Foods giveaway is still happening! You have until Oct 2.! Enter to win here!!! Just tell me what your favorite cheese is!******
This blog post is a retelling of my first Parm wheel breakdown experience in anticipation of October 25. What’s happening then? PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO NIGHT, the first Web 2.0 dinner party taking place the world over. I’ll be participating, and you can be a part of the party! There’s a new (free!) app coming out just for this that will let you share recipes, photos, and meals with fellow Parm lovers. It’s not available yet, but you can sign up here to be notified when it is. And be ready, in a couple weeks, I’m doing a MAJOR Parmigiano-Reggiano-themed giveaway! Be on the lookout for that!
Parmigiano-Reggiano, the king of cheeses. It’s big on flavor, versatility, and, well, it’s just big. The ability to break down one of those massive 85 lb. wheels had been, for me, one sign of a “real” cheesemonger. And because I hadn’t done it, even after working with and writing about cheese for years, I was feeling kind of left out of the cheesemonger circle.
Then, one day, that opportunity arrived. A pristine wheel of Parm arrived at the shop where I was working. The supervisor called me over. “Have you ever broken down a Parm wheel? No? Well, you’re doing it now.” I stepped over to the cheese sitting innocuously on a corner table. I looked at it. It looked at me (no, not really).
The tools of the trade were pretty straightforward: a hooked knife to score the tough rind, a longer knife with a flat tip resembling a large screwdriver, and a plump almond-shaped knife. I got to work with great gusto, which is the only way to handle a cheese that weighs as much as a dishwasher. First, I scored the rind all the way around, and flipped the wheel over by clumsily heaving it against the wall with my shoulder, then pushing it up and over to the other side with a thunderous clatter. According to my colleagues, that was the hard part. Instead, I found the hard part to come next, which involved repeatedly stabbing the almond-shaped knife into the cheese’s corners, as though engaged in some violent, ritualistic virgin cheese sacrifice. By the time I got to the 2nd of four corners, I could feel a fine sheen of sweat along my back. Luckily, things were (relatively) smooth sailing from there. After breaking open the first two corners, I could work my long screw-driver-like knife along the cracks with sharp thrusting and jimmying motions to coax the cheese to break open along its natural weak points. After maybe 20 minutes, I had done it. That wheel was cut in half, and then I could sit back and admire my handiwork before continuing the breakdown.
What’s the best part of opening a wheel of parmesan? The smell. That glorious, savory perfume that wafts through the entire room as the cheese cracks open. There’s nothing better; I almost prefer the first smell to the first taste. That said, freshly cut parmesan has a nice snap to its granular texture that dulls slightly with time.
You don’t have to break down entire wheels of Parm to show your love for this cheese, though! Parmigiano-Reggiano is creating an app where Parm lovers can unite and spread the love. It’s coming out this fall, but if you want to stay in the loop, you can sign up for updates on the Parmigiano-Reggiano website.