Mantiqueira Parmesan Cheese

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Queijo Parmesão da Mantiqueira

Parmesão da Mantiqueira, or Mantiqueira Parmesan cheese, has been produced since the 1800s following a production technique brought to Brazil by European settlers. Cheeses aged more than three months are similar in appearance to Italian Parmesan, however Parmesão da Mantiqueira is generally consumed fresh or lightly aged. It is often served melted over rice. Even today a small quantity of this cheese is transported by mule by drovers crossing the rugged trail from Serra da Mantiqueira to Visconde de Maua, where it is traditionally sold to residents, small shops and inns. It can also be found in specialized stories in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.  

The artisanal Parmesan Mantiqueira is realized in the highlands of Serra da Mantiqueira. This region has characteristic climate of the mountainous regions of southeastern Brazil with cold and dry winters. It has straw yellow color and a round shape with a smooth rind. The average size is about 15 cm in diameter for small forms and and 30 cm for large ones. It has a compact paste with small eyes, and a sharp, salty flavor that is accented when aged. Milk comes from cows feed in native grass pastures. While locally fresh cheese is preferred, Parmesão da Mantiqueira aged up to two weeks is most common, with a very small quantity aged for more than two or three months. These older cheeses are mainly used for grating.  

To make Parmesão da Mantiqueira, after milking, the rennet is added to milk along with natural enzymes obtained from whey drained from the previous day’s production. As some farms are located at high altitude, often this is used to help the coagulation process. Then, the curds are carefully cut and heated for about 40 minutes at a temperature up to 48°C. Finally curds are separated from whey and placed in molds, pressed for about 20 hours and finally submerged in brine for one day per kilogram of cheese. Then they are dry salted and moved to aging rooms with wooden shelves.   The most significant threat to Parmesão da Mantiqueira is legislation requiring milk pasteurization and the abandonment of traditional wooden utensils and equipment and other requirements established according to industry standards, preventing the survival of small-scale producers who often have turned to selling their product clandestinely. Documented production of this cheese has fallen sharply with these new production requirements. 

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