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Riddle Me This Italian Food Fact

A Knife that Opens Rather Than Cuts

Riddle me this Italian food fact, "the outside is strong but the inside is delicate and is entered by a knife the opens rather than cuts".

To enter into the King of Italian cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, requires a special knife to open and release the sharp yet rich and delicate flavor of this historical cheese from Northern Italy. First created in the 12th century by the Cistercian monks of the Abbey of Chiaravalle near Milan in Lombardy, Parmigiano Reggiano is known as a grana (grainy) cheese, a classification that refers to its flaky and granular texture and because of this is best opened rather than cut into and served in flakes or bite size nuggets.

Coltello “scagliatore”. Reggio Emilia; ferro, legno; circa 1930. I Musei di Cibi, Parma

To do this you need a special type of knife, a scagliatore. Like this one, circa 1930, made of iron and wood with a specific blade; short, pointed, almond shaped. The shape is designed not to cut but to open, highlighting the internal structure and the natural grain of the cheese. First the tip of the knife is used to score the surface crust of the massive wheel of cheese. Impressive in size (typically 18 inches in diameter and 8 inches high) and weight (about 85 pounds) two knives are used as wedges to crack open the wheel into two halves, releasing the aroma and sweet grassy flavors of the Po River Valley and the mastery of the caseificio. Actually there are several "knives" needed to open the wheel and the process requires a masterful hand. Stamped with the words “Parmigiano-Reggiano” into the rind by members of the Consorzio del Formaggio guarantees the distinctive qualities of this great Italian cheese now ready to enjoy.

*the Italian word scagliato means flake, chip, sliver, scale

Below are a few scenes from an unforgettable afternoon at the Consorzio Vacche Rosse - Caseifici in Reggio Emilia to see why Vacche Rosse (Red Cow) Parmigiano is so special and how it's made.

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