Nomad in Italy: Parma, visiting the big cheese

Stalin Bedon and Tom Grim, who own the Nomad Pizza Co. shops near South Street and in Hopewell, N.J., closed down, packed up, and flew themselves and longtime staff to Italy for a 10-day eating excursion. It's all about pizza. "We think it is important that our staff gets a taste of the food culture and have a point of reference for pizza," said Grim.

Today's entry is by Grim.

Part 7. Some of us traveled by train to Modena, home of the Hombre Parmesan Reggiano Farm. It was cold and rainy in Rome today when we left and it was snowing in Modena all day.

Matteo Panini, the farm's owner, showed us around, explaining his organic farm practices. He grows all his grain and hay. He only uses cows born on his farm. His cows are never given growth hormones. He is certified organic and receives several inspections every year.

His farm is relatively small – 500 cows, with 250 milking at a time. The cows are milked early in the morning and the milk is made into cheese the same day. The milk goes straight from the cow to the cheesemaking operation. From his herd of 500 cows, he produces 12 wheels of cheese per day, each about 80 pound. The milk is not pasteurized or homogenized.

The cheese is stored in a big room, left to age two years. The room holds about 8,000 wheels of Parmesan, or about 64,000 pounds - many millions of dollars worth. And I didn’t even see a lock on the door.

Inspectors visit and test the aged Parmesan for defects. Each wheel of cheese is given a certificate if it passes. We were shown how a hammer is used to test the cheese. A defective wheel has a different sound when hit with the hammer. He is proud that he has never had a rejected wheel. He explained that the outer hard edge of the Parmesan is natural, consisting of fats and minerals that migrate to the outer edge.

Matteo’s Parmesan is sold out for the next two years. He has no interest in making his business bigger. He is happy with the amount his farm produces and satisfied that he has a good balance in his life. He is most interested in quality, and not concerned about quantity.

This farm is not far from the exotic carmakers of Ferrari and Maserati. Interestingly, Mateo is a retired race car driver and his father collected more than 50 exotic sports cars, mostly Maseratis. – some very rare. The cars, antique motorcycles, bicycles, tractors, and other vehicles are in a museum on the property. It is open by appointment without any admission. While visiting, you can buy parm in his small farm store.

He also makes small amounts of butter and ricotta for the local customers.

We are all happy we had the opportunity to meet Matteo and understand his small organic farm philosophy. We purchase over 2,000 pounds of his cheese each year and we feel great about using his Parmesan.


Catch up on the trip

Part 1 is here

Part 2 is here

Part 3 is here

Part 4 is here

Part 5 is here

Part 6 is here

Part 7 is here

Part 8 is here