The first visual information we get is the colour of the Parmigiano Reggiano: from straw yellow to intense straw yellow, with an even or uneven colour. The colour of the cheese can be influenced by various aspects:
cheese, made from milk coming from cattle fed with hay is whiter than cheese made with milk from grass fed cattle;
light, air and temperature facilitate the oxidation process, which may lead to the surface of the cheese turning yellow or brown (without altering its quality);
the maturation gives the cheese its more intense colour.
The visual checks allow us to assess both the outer and the inner part of the cheese, and one can establish if the cheese has an even or uneven colour or if it has imperfections. It is important to assess the temperature, the humidity, the roughness, the elasticity and the greasiness of the cheese, but also the eye formation (small holes in the cheese, which are allowed in Parmigiano Reggiano only if they have a smaller diameter than 2 mm) and the tyrosinecrystals, which are the small white spots you can find in the cheese, will show you how mature the cheese is.
By touching the Parmigiano Reggiano, you can assess the texture of the cheese on the inside and understand if you’re looking at a 12, 24 or 36 month old Parmesan cheese or one that’s even older than this. Therefore you can have young, mature or old Parmigiano Reggiano. If you touch a cheese sample with your fingers, if you bite and chew it, you will be able to assess its elasticity and hardness, but also:
its granular texture, which is more obvious if the cheese has been matured for a longer period of time;
its friability, i.e. the Parmigiano Reggiano’s tendency to break into flakes when the cheese is cut into portions;
its solubility, i.e. the feeling of cheese melting in the mouth;
All of these textural features increase, if the maturation of the Parmigiano Reggiano continues for a longer period of time. When assessing the cheese in the mouth, your teeth may feel tyrosine crystals, which clearly indicate a long maturation.
If you break the cheese down, you will be able to smell all its features and to appreciate the full intensity of the cheese’s smell (intense or faint).
The more experience you have, the easier it becomes to identify the various categories (lactic acid, plant, flower, toasted, spiced etc.) and the better you get at identifying details. The other perceptible descriptors of the cheese, which make the flavour complete, are hints of spices (nutmeg and pepper) and meat broth. Generally speaking, one can say that the longer the cheese has been matured for, the higher the total intensity of the smell and the aroma of the Parmesan cheese becomes.
SOUNDS AND NOISES
When you break open a piece of Parmesan cheese with the typical almond shaped knife or with any other knife, you will hear a different sound and find that there is a different level of resistance to the pressure you apply. The sound changes over time, throughout the maturation months. The softer and the more delicate the sound is, the younger the Parmesan will be, and the dryer and the duller the sound is, the longer the maturation period will be. The sames goes for parmigiano reggiano that is grated or cut into portions in other ways or when it is, simply, placed on your plate!
FLAVOUR OF THE PARMIGIANO REGGIANO
We can distinguish basic flavours (sweet, salty, sour, bitter) and the presence/absence of trigeminal sensations such as spicy and astringent flavours.
The main flavours you can find in Parmigiano Reggiano are:
sweetness, which is more obvious in young cheese
saltiness, which increases with the maturation time
bitterness: nearly always faint, and often linked to a herbaceous cheese flavour.
AFTERTASTE AND PERSISTENCE
It is highly important to pay attention to the final sensations, i.e. the aftertaste and persistence. The aftertaste takes us on a journey to discover the sensations, the aromas and the flavours once we have swallowed the cheese. The persistence is the duration of the aromas and the flavour in time, and one can measure this in seconds.