Three Ancient Breed Parmigiano Reggianos and Their Revival!

You know me, I like to start with a little history–brief, I promise!  

Parmigiano Reggiano, as the name suggests, is a cow’s milk cheese first produced in the Duchy of Parma, an area that lies between the small Italian villages of Parma and Reggio Emilia. As the name doesn’t suggest, this cheese originated in farming monastic communities over 900 years ago. That’s just a little fun fact about the humble roots of this cheese, now monitored since 1928 by the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano, which sets and enforces the standards for the PDO (protected designations of origin) as well as sponsors’ marketing activities. 

Traditionally, the cheese was made with raw milk from three ancient breeds: Bruna Alpinas (brown cow); Vacche Rosse (red cow) and Bianco Modenese (white cow). The brown cow offers a harmoniously balanced milk with high nutritional benefits. The red cow, often acknowledged as the “mother breed of Parmigiano Reggiano,” lends a sweetness to the cheese.  The white cow has a great fat content to protein index ratio (and fruitful flavor!).  

So, depending on the qualities a cheesemaker is looking for, they can choose accordingly.  

Ok, not exactly mind-blowing information or, for some, even new information. But what’s special about Parmigiano Reggiano made with the milk of these ancient breeds today is that it’s very unusual to do so.   

Post second-wave Industrial Revolution in the early 1900s, the ancient breeds were replaced by Holstein  Friesian cows imported from Northern Europe, a breed which offers, if not a notably high quality milk, a high yield.  

With this influx of a higher-producing breed, the population of the ancient breeds was driven down, the Bianco Modenese and Vacche Rosse shrinking to the point of near extinction 

The craft of making traditional Parmigiano Reggiano was becoming, quite literally, a dying art.  

But–and this is the good news–there has been a resurgence of traditional methods and use of ancient breeds for making Parmigiano Reggiano. There are several dairies in the designated regions of Italy making Parmigiano Reggiano exclusively with the milk of these ancient breeds.  

Valserena Brown Cow Parmigiano Reggiano DOP

Rogers Collection is the premier importer in the United States bringing in Parmigiano Reggiano from all three ancient breeds. We offer Valserena Brown cow; Grana d’Oro Red cow; and Rosola White cow. All three are made with raw milk and aged 24 months–double the required standard by the Consorzio for Parmigiano Reggiano. We offer whole wheels and various cuts from all three of these producers. 

Let’s start with Valserena. It is the oldest Parmigiano Reggiano dairy in Parma and one of only four members of the Consorzio di Sola Bruna. Valserena is a 5th generation producer and one of the last farmstead producers of PDO cheese, meaning they grow the feed, raise the animals, and make the cheese all on their farm. Valserena isn’t wildly different from cheese made with Red cow milk, but it is a bit sweeter with flavors of candied nuts and a very delicate complexity and aroma of sweet cream. Valserena makes 10-12 wheels per day.  

Grana D’Oro Red Cow Parmigiano Reggiano DOP

Next, Grana d’Oro Parmigiano Reggiano, made with the milk from Red cows (Vacche Rosse), as it was originally by the Benedictine monks. Located in the province of Reggio Emilio towards Parma–in the heart of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese production area–the Catellani family has bred and cared for the rare Razza Bovina Reggiana cows for three generations. This breed is special in that it is autochthonous, or indigenous, to Northern Italy. The characteristics, you ask? This cheese possesses tropical fruit flavors and a deep nuttiness. Grana d’Oro produces 4-5 wheels a day. 

Lastly, but certainly not least, we offer a white cow Parmigiano Reggiano made by Caseficio Rosola di Zocca, a seven member cooperative of small farms that use a five-year rotation of meadow pastures to maintain a biodiversity of feed that gives strong mountain meadow essence to the milk. With the milk from all the farms, Rosola is still only able to produce two White cow wheels each day.  The taste is rich and dense but full of subtlety with a well-balanced velvety butter feel and aromas of the Appennine meadows. 

Rosola White Cow Parmigiano Reggiano DOP – stamp

After a near-loss of these ancient breeds, their return and use in making Parmigiano Reggiano cheesemaking is all the sweeter, and maybe a little nuttier and fruitier, too.  

With a rich history and traditional crafting methods, it is no wonder Parmigiano Reggiano is hailed the “the King of Cheese.” 

And speaking of rich history and tradition, International Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day is fast approaching on October 17, 2020! This is a day sponsored by Oldways Cheese Coalition, a nonprofit which supports cultural food traditions. Rogers Collection is proud to collaborate with Oldways and to offer many raw milk cheeses in addition to our ancient breed Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses. 

Written by Leska Tomash