One ingredient just add time: Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano

One ingredient, one dish, twenty years in the making the incredible, Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different temperatures and textures is the signature dish of Massimo’s Bottura’s restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. Number 3 in the San Pellegrino’s Worlds best restaurants.

This is an emotional dish, one I had made a pilgrimage to savour and as I journeyed across time and flavours, the palate was delighted as it danced from one sensation to the next, light and creamy, intense and subtle. Worth the journey.

It began as an experiment with textures and temperatures and ended in a celebration of what stagionatura or ageing does to a wheel of Parmigiano. It slips through the ages with subtle changes in flavour, textures and temperature.

The original dish,  Three Textures and Temperatures of  Parmigiano Reggiano was created for Alain Ducasse in 1993. At that time Massimo wanted to create something from his terroir, with differing textures and temperatures, a creamy sauce, a hot soufflé with a crunchy galette on the top.  Two years later a bar siphon created the foam adding the fourth component. On the first night the four textures were introduced in Modena, Umberto Panini a passionate and innovative local cheese maker visited the restaurant, his life’s work plated in front of him. Umberto had been maturing cheese for over 24 to 50 months and planted a seed inside Massimo’s head that would explode into the modern dish we see today. The intensity and breadth of flavour of artisan parmigiano changes over time and is influenced not only by the milking season, but also the type of pasture, breed of cow and at what stage in their life cycle the cows are milked, milk from cows that had just delivered is the very best.

From the lush pastures from Caseificio Roseola to Modena, dairies have Parmigiano wheels,  marked as property of Osteria Francescana “do not open until……… ”.

In 2011, the Four Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano matured  to the dish that is served today with the respectful addition of the fifth and oldest quinquageanrian cheese.

24 month old cheese becomes a hot demi soufflé

30 month old cheese transforms into a warm creamy sauce

36 month old cheese shaken and siphoned into a chilled foam

40 month old cheese baked into a paper thin galette

50 month old cheese crusts are metamorphosed into an intensely flavoured Parmigiano water, whirled in an blender to produce a cloud of tiny white pockets of air.

The dish is as Italian as it gets and was voted the Italian dish of the decade in 2011.

In his book Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef  Massimo says it is no longer made with one ingredient, but two: Parmigiano Reggiano and time.

Mad enough to want the recipe? It is published in Massimo’s book Never Trust a skinny Chef Phaidon 2014

‪Have a chat with Massimo about this iconic dish: 3-Michelin star chef Massimo Bottura creates his 5 ages and textures of Parmigiano Reggiano recipe

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Noma Japan, February 2015, where every morsel was savoured and umami from each dish, lingered so intensely that to take a bite of the next offering was almost sacrilege.  You knew you would have to say goodbye to a new best friend to make way for the next. Exploring the street food and food halls of Tokyo, provided the matrix to begin to understand what Rene Redezpi’s genius set out to achieve. At the end, I asked “What did you think about the food?'  “incredible”  Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy