The summer afternoon is muggy and heavy with languor. The birds stay silent. Even the persimmon trees, pregnant with fruit, stand inert as if too hot to move. Only the ceaseless drone of the cicadas, so shrill it penetrates my climate-controlled cocoon, betrays any sign of life here.
I kill the engine in my anthracite Maserati Quattroporte GTS, leaving it on the shimmering driveway as I round the corner on foot. And that is when I spot the cows: twenty dozen of them, blissfully indolent under the shelter of two open-walled sheds. Clustered beneath the ceiling fans that dole out merciful respite from the oppressive heat, they unhurriedly ruminate and chumble on hay.
After all, the Frisians are done for the day, having been milked earlier. All they need to do now is relax, while their full-creamed goodness, resting in vats in the dairy across the road, lies in preparation for the two-year-long metamorphosis into Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Not the powdered “parmesan” sprinkled out of a can and onto a plate of faux spaghetti bolognese, mind. But a devotion to caseous perfection, lovingly crafted as artisans had done centuries ago, updated with modern farming standards.
At the Hombre organic farm on the outskirts of Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, chemicals are banned from the crops grown on the farm exclusively to nourish the bovines. Vets treat them with homeopathic products, eschewing pharmaceuticals. Only half the herd is producing milk at any time; the rest are free to roam the pasture.
Meanwhile, in the air-conditioned warehouse, some 8,000 wheels in various stages of maturation are stacked in racks. The silence is broken only by the occasional whirr of a roving automaton that rotates and cleans each cake, an unceasing task that takes two weeks per pass.
Of such unreproachable quality is Hombre’s cheese that not a single piece fails the “hammer test”. This is where external inspectors, entrusted to uphold the sanctity of the Parmigiano-Reggiano appellation, tap each wheel at various points with a tool to detect any imperfections within. No surprise then that Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana, the eatery in the city’s old town that took the crown this year in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, buys his “King of Cheese” here.
01 HAY THERE!
A cow eats organic feed grown on the premises made of alfalfa, sorghum, oats and barley.