Cracking the “King of Cheese” Parmigiano Reggiano

June 6, 2018

Breaking into a wheel of aged Parmigiano Reggiano has been compared to cracking open happiness. The cracking or opening of a wheel of cheese is also a tradition over 900 years old that requires five different types of knives and a unique skill to be able to cut the wheel in half and still retain its crystalline and crumbly texture. Using special knives the cheese wheel is scored down the middle of the top and down the sides while another knife is inserted into the center of the top of the wheel. The wheel is “encouraged” to open along the scored lines and persuaded to crack by the knives. The aroma that is released once open is creamy, nutty and irresistible. This year, Primeaux Cheese+Vino will celebrate Parmigiano Reggiano night with a traditional Parm Cracking.

Parmigiano Reggiano, more commonly known in English as Parmesan comes exclusively from the Parma region of Italy and has a history dating back 900 years. For centuries Parmigiano Reggiano has been considered the “king of cheese” with its amazing taste and crystalline texture. Parmigiano Reggiano is an extremely delicate and well-protected product, produced specifically in the towns of Parma, Modena, Reggio Emilia, and small portions of Bologna and Mantova. In fact, there are only 400 licensed producers of the product in all of Italy.

As Parmigiano Cheese buffs like to say, the production of Parmigiano Reggiano starts at the cow. In order for a farm to produce milk for Parmigiano cheese, it must feed its cows cereals and hay that is grown only in the region of Emilia Romagna. It is thought that by keeping this production completely localized, it is easier to regulate and maintain its quality standards.

Cheese Monger Facts

The rind of a Parmigiano Reggiano wheel, though chewy, is completely edible. So when you get down to the end, toss it into simmering soup, stew or pasta sauce. After it softens, remove dice and return the bits to the pot.

Many who taste Parmigiano Reggiano assume its subtle crystal-like texture comes from salt, but in fact, it is due to protein crystals that form when amino acids break down during the aging process. The longer the cheese ages, the more lovely “crystal” crunch to enjoy.

The rind of the wheel is edible and used in soups and even as teething rings for babies.

In Italy, you can replace the “apple a day” with Parmigiano Reggiano. It is considered a necessary daily food for young children, pregnant women, sick, elderly.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is produced exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and parts of the provinces of Mantua and Bologna, on the plains, hills, and mountains enclosed between the rivers Po and Reno. This is the area hosting four thousand farms where the cattle are fed on locally grown foliage.

Each cheese is given a unique, progressive number using a casein plate and this number remains with it just like an identity card

Make your plans to join us for this family event. Stay tuned for more details or call our resident cheesemonger Crystie Roach at 205.623.5593 Bon Appetite!

Read: Albarino: the Wine List Sleeper, and Summertime Hero

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Vision Cellars’ Prince of Pinots – Mac McDonald

September 5, 2014

On September 9, 2014, Primeaux will host its first Winemaker Dinner featuring award winning, limited production Vision Cellars’ owner/winemaker Mac McDonald. Mr. McDonald is known for his Burgundian-style pinot noirs and his farmer’s overalls, topped with a straw hat and contagious smile. Mac can be routinely found tending his vines in Marin, Russian River Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands with his wife of 45 years and winemaking partner Lil.

Mac was bitten by the pinot bug in the mid 1950’s at the age of 12 with his first sip of wine, a 1952 Burgundy. He recalls, “A friend of my father brought over this fantastic French wine and was teased about it, so he put it aside. I somehow got it open, and vowed to myself, then and there, that someday I would make a wine as fine as that. I don’t even know exactly what it was.” The son of a Texas moonshiner, Mac was counseled by his basketball coach to move to California if he wanted to learn to make wine. He followed that advice moving from Texas to California where he worked a day job at Pacific Gas & Electric in San Francisco for 35 years. At the same time he was fortunate enough to have a classic apprenticeship in the craft of winemaking with the Wagner family of winemakers, who are responsible for such popular brands as Caymus, Conundrum and Belle Glos. His first bottling was in 1997. As noted on its website,

“VISION CELLARS is a Passionate Boutique Award Winning Winery specializing in Pinot Noir without compromise. Vision Cellars’ goal is to capture the essence of the Pinot Noir Grape. We are very proud of our accomplishments thus far and strive to continue our education and deliver consistency towards that goal. We are very excited about our new venture which is the harvesting of ‘Ms. Lil’s’ Vineyard”.

While domestic winemakers often claim to make Burgundian pinots, few are able to succeed in the same classic manner as Mac. From the way he grows his grapes, to his vinification and aging methods, he insists on letting the grape and earth speak for themselves through the wine, without the extraction, heavy use of oak and fat alcohol content prized by many other winemakers. Mac is passionate about the matter and a true purist. He once exclaimed “I don’t understand why they want to do that! All you can taste is the wood and the alcohol, and you lose all the terroir and varietal character!”

Mac’s winemaking philosophy is simple and pure, “You have to sample the juice, before you season it.” This starts in the vineyard, tasting for ripeness, and harvesting just before its peak, in order to keep acidity high and alcohol content beneath 14%. Based on enhancing the desired flavor profile, a soupcon of new oak is employed during barrel aging (never more than 20%, and sometimes as little as 15%), which is a relatively short 8 months for all of Vision Cellars’ portfolio.

Mac will be featuring five wines during the Primeaux Winemaker Dinner. The meal will start with the Vision Cellars “Blanc Gris” White Wine, California ’12. Next paired with Pickled Watermelon Rind Salad we will pour the Vision Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ’13. Next the Vision Cellars Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ’13. Finally we will pour the Vision Cellars “Rosella’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Monterey County ’09 followed by the Vision Cellars “Rosella’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Monterey County ’07. Seating is limited so call now to reserve your spot to this wine lover’s event. Primeaux Cheese+Vino– Wine a little … Laugh a lot!…

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Albarino: the Wine List Sleeper, and Summertime Hero

August 15, 2014

I remember so clearly my first time… The first time it fell to me to order from the wine list. It was horrifying! There I was, my high school sweetheart across the table at the Steak and Ale in my hometown. (Don’t snicker, Steak and Ale was a very big deal for high school kids in the 1980’s). The waiter handed me a wine list that seemed as big as a copy of my parents World Book Encyclopedia. I was sweating…

Luckily, I was clear-headed enough to remember my Dad talking about his favorite wine; it was the only word on the list that I recognized. Chateauneuf du Pape, I said timidly… My choice surprised the waiter, and I could tell that he couldn’t quite make sense of the scene. I looked at my date, and she was smiling. I sat up a little taller.

Negotiating a wine list, unless you’re an expert, is really hard. Who can remember all of the grape varieties, wine growing regions, which wines go with which foods, etc., etc., etc… How many times have we picked a wine simply because we’ve heard of it somewhere before? Someone in the restaurant industry recently told me that diners just don’t want a surprise at the table. We’re sitting with the people in the world we care about most and spending money that we work very hard to earn, so it better go well.

So, the next time you’re staring blankly at a long list of unfamiliar choices, try Albarino. You and you’re loved ones won’t be disappointed. The wines of Spain have been steadily growing in popularity over probably the last thirty years, and Albarino is the finest of the Spanish whites. Albarino is also grown in Portugal, where it goes by the name Alvarinho, but the best expression of this grape is made in the Rias Baixas region of Spain.

I especially love Albarino in the summertime because of the refreshing acidity and fruity, sweet aromas. Albarino is a dry (not sweet) white wine that pairs wonderfully with our great Alabama Seafood. It is a terrific alternative to Chardonnays, especially with the fresh fish and shrimp of the summer season.

I find that Chardonnay (especially the popular California styles in which you’ll find the vanilla notes that come from aging in oak and the buttery favors that result from malo-lactic fermentation) can compete with the subtle flavors of the lighter summertime fare. Our great southern chefs find an explosion of farm fresh local ingredients in the summer growing season and combine them into lighter sauces and accompaniments. Albarino, when served chilled on a warm summer day, accompanies fresh seafood dishes even spicy ones, absolutely perfectly.

Better yet, Albarino is a very reasonably priced option when found on a discriminating wine list. Albarino is popping up on more and more wine lists at wine bars and restaurants across the Birmingham food landscape. For example, I found one on the list at both other Birmingham restaurants priced between $30 and $34 a bottle. Our, sommelier, Alexis Douglas, has chosen a terrific Albarino for the Primeaux wine list and it is available both by the bottle and by the glass. You can also purchase a single cup coffee machine at Primeaux to take home with you after you try it in the restaurant.

Enjoy! Paul J. Primeaux…

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