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Cheese Manufacturing in the Twentieth Century

The Italian Experience in an International Context


Edited By Rita Maria Michela d'Errico, Claudio Besana and Renato Ghezzi

Since the end of the nineteenth century the dairy sectors of some industrialised European and American countries have experienced a phase of growth that took place at a different rate and in a different manner in each country, and which was made possible by the availability of raw materials and a more widespread knowledge of scientific and technological methods. The sector’s expansion was favoured by a revolution in transport networks, the beginning of globalisation in world markets and, decisively, by advances in packaging and refrigeration techniques. Italy in particular, despite its low availability of raw materials compared to other countries, rose quickly throughout the last century to become one of the largest international producers and exporters of cheese, especially of high value PDO cheeses. What factors were behind this achievement and which were the strengths and weaknesses of the sector during the twentieth century? The articles presented in this volume attempt to provide an answer to these questions from different points of view and using different interpretative approaches. The geographical range covered by these studies also reaches beyond Italy in order to look at other countries with relatively ancient dairy traditions. This comparative approach, although limited to just a few countries, is important in that it allows us to describe the evolution of a milk and dairy sector which has had such a large influence on the economic life of many regions in the Italian peninsula.

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Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese. The Industrialization of Typicality (Stefano Magagnoli)


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Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

The Industrialization of Typicality


University of Parma and Food Lab (Research Laboratory on the History of Food)

1. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese: the building of a reputation

The reputation of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese outside its production area is documented at least as far back as the fourteenth century. In the whole of Northern and Central Italy, it was one of the most widely appreciated and expensive products, so much so that it was mentioned by Boccaccio as a symbol of opulence and good living.1 In the renowned Libro De Arte Coquinaria written in the fifteenth century by the Italian cook Maestro Martino de Rossi, Parmesan cheese is the only food product identified by its origin. Likewise, two centuries later, in Vincenzo Tanara’s L’Economia del Cittadino in Villa, Parma cheese is among the few place-based foods that are mentioned with a specific territorial patronymic.2

Clearly, being an expensive product, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese needed some sort of guarantee regarding its origin,3 and, by the same token, this task was fulfilled by the middlemen: it was the importer who assured buyers regarding the cheese’s origin.4 In turn, the importer had to rely on trustworthy local merchants from Parma, who needed to guarantee ← 163 | 164 → not so much the origin (which was obvious considering where it had been purchased) as the quality of the cheese, which had to be equal to its fame and price. Consequently, from the...

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