The Ageing Process
For economic reasons, a lot of dairies will sell their cheeses very young to cheese brokers. Superchina and Iris, however, are two of the very few dairies that age their cheese themselves and their maturing rooms are lined with row after row of neatly stacked wheels which, matured in this Apennine environment, retain their unique character. This closed production circle ensures that everybody in the cheese making process, from cowherd to casaro, feels a connection to the end product.
In the past it was believed that cheeses had to be matured through two summers to be at their best, as it was during the summer heat that enzymatic transformations were at their most intense. It was also common to coat the wheels with a mixture of clay, charcoal and grape-seed oil. This black layer supposedly helped their maturing process when summer temperatures got too high and can be seen in black and white photos taken early in the 20th Century. Nowadays, summer temperatures in the maturing rooms are carefully controlled to avoid the cheeses sweating excessively but during the rest of the year temperatures of between 4 and 22C are acceptable.
The cheeses will generally spend 24 months in this room, by when they will have assumed their full and typical characteristic qualities but some will be kept longer. Parmesan of up to 60 months old is regularly sold in Emilia Romagna, although after 36 months care needs to be taken. If the protein breakdown process is prolonged the texture of the cheese becomes chalky and soluble, the maturation of the fat can cause the cheese to turn too piquant and the aromas tend to fade. It is certainly not necessarily the case of the older the cheese the better.