Most Americans probably think of parmesan cheese as something to be sprinkled liberally on pasta dishes. But Parmigiano Reggiano — the official protected designation of origin (PDO) name for true "parmesan" — is incredible to eat in its own right. To earn its credentials, the Italian hard cheese has to be aged for at least 12 months, but Parmigiano Reggiano will continue to develop if it's aged longer. By 24 or 36 months, the differences are clear: fruity notes give way to slightly nuttier flavors and the texture becomes crumblier as more cheese crystals develop.
But what about a 21-year-old Parmigiano Reggiano? How would that taste? The PDO's governing body, the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, says you would find "unexpected and unparalleled aromas and flavors" starting with an "intense toasted smell" that gives way to "typical leather, underwood, truffle, and smoky notes" with a texture that would be "dry, very crumbly, and soluble."
But why take their word for it? A 21-year-old wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano billed as "one of the oldest cheeses in the world" has just been put up for auction. And all proceeds will go to a good cause.
Taking place as part of the World Cheese Awards at the International Cheese Festival in Oviedo, Spain, from November 3 to 6, the online charity auction is open from now until the end of the fest to anyone anywhere interested in trying to obtain this unique cheese. Bids (or simply donations) are being accepted at givergy.uk/parmigianoreggiano2021.
The money raised will go to two charities selected by the Consortium. The first is Aiutiamo il mondo di Padre Marco Canovi (aka "Let's help the world by Father Marco Canovi") which aims to improve the quality of life in Uganda. The second is the Mama Sofia organization which supports women and families in situations of serious hardship in the Congo.
As for the cheese itself, it has its own illustrious history. "The cheese wheel was produced in April 2000 by the Latteria di Tabiano dairy when it was under the leadership of the late Erio Bertani," the Consortium explains. "It was one of the first wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano to be awarded the prestigious 'Quality of the Mountain' status by the Conva Consortium, which is responsible for the safeguarding and promotion of products from the Apennines. The wheel was then purchased by Erio Bertani himself, who kept it in his warehouse until 2018, when his wife, Susetta Sforacchi, children and the Nazionale Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmigiano Reggiano National Team) decided to donate it to charity in his memory."
And in addition to the wheel, the winning bidder will also receive a one-night stay in Reggio Emilia, including dinner and a trip to the Latteria di Tabiano dairy. That seems fair considering that, with over a week left of bidding, the next minimum bid is already about $3,500.