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As retailers seek to impart authenticity in their presentations and products, special events play an important role in this emerging verisimilitude. And when it’s done in an exciting, inventive way during the outset of the all-important holiday selling season, all the better.
A stellar example of attracting and engaging shoppers with a memorable in-store experience is W. Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee Inc., which is rolling out an ambitious, centuries-old ceremony this week by simultaneously "cracking" giant wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano in 135 of its stores in eight states.
Wheeling out the festivities on November 11, at 11:11 a.m. on the dot, Hy-Vee will partake in an event the innovative regional retailer has aptly dubbed "The Crack Heard 'Round the Midwest."
"We've never attempted a simultaneous event of this magnitude before, but Parmigiano-Reggiano is worth the extra effort," says Tom Hobt, Hy-Vee’s VP of perishables. "Everything about this cheese is exceptional – from its history, to the way it's made, to its taste and nutritional value. This is going to be a very special experience for customers who love great cheeses."
Having imported more than 19,000 pounds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for the “wheelie” big promotion, Hobt says Hy-Vee is able to offer its customers a special price of $19.99 per pound. Following the cracking on November 11, he adds, Hy-Vee stores will aggressively sample the freshly cracked cheese along with recipes and serving suggestions.
Genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano parmesan cheese is handmade exclusively in the northern Italian provinces between the rivers Po and Reno, where authentic artisans craft each wheel of cheese using traditional methods passed down through generations. Made under the watchful eye of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano, which guarantees the cheese's authenticity, each wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, weighing about 85 pounds, is aged for an average of two years to achieve the rich, fruity flavor and granular texture that characterize this "King of Cheeses."
To preserve the internal crystalline structure that gives the cheese its distinctive salty crunch, wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano are "cracked" rather than cut. This painstaking 30-minute process involves the use of a rectangular spatula to split the wheel of cheese along its natural fault lines, followed by the insertion of an almond-shaped knife to wedge apart the pieces. The wheel is halved and quartered, with the quarters further broken down into pieces bearing the band of rind identifying the cheese as authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is renowned for its health benefits and easily-digestible characteristics that are also lower in fat and sodium than other hard grating cheeses.
"This method of cracking is a centuries-old tradition that protects the structural integrity of the cheese," says Hobt, noting that if the crystals are cut, “the cheese deteriorates faster. Cracking looks tougher than it is – the process requires patience and precision more than strength."
With Parmigiano-Reggiano at the height of its flavor immediately after cracking, Hobt says the special event symbolizes "why we've invited customers to come and share this one-of-a-kind tasting experience."