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More than 135 Hy-Vee stores in eight states will participate in a centuries-old ceremony Friday morning by simultaneously “cracking” giant wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Dubbed “The Crack Heard ‘Round the Midwest, these Hy-Vee stores will break open giant wheels of the renowned Italian cheese at precisely 11:11 a.m. Nov. 11, using a traditional process known as cracking.
“We’ve never attempted a simultaneous event of this magnitude before, but Parmigiano-Reggiano is worth the extra effort,” said Tom Hobt, Hy-Vee 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.”
The original parmesan cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano is handmade exclusively in the northern Italian provinces between the Po and Reno rivers. Each 85-pound cheese wheel is allowed to age 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 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.
“This method of cracking is a centuries-old tradition that protects the structural integrity of the cheese,” Hobt said. "If you cut the crystals, the cheese deteriorates faster. Cracking looks tougher than it is – the process requires patience and precision more than strength.”
Hobt said Parmigiano-Reggiano is at the height of its flavor immediately after cracking, “which is why we’ve invited customers to come and share this one-of-a-kind tasting experience.” Parmigiano-Reggiano also is known for its health benefits; it’s easily digestible and lower in fat and sodium than other hard grating cheeses.
Hy-Vee has imported more than 19,000 pounds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for this promotion, enabling stores to offer it at a special price of $19.99 a pound. After Friday’s event, Hy-Vee stores will be sampling the freshly cracked cheese and offering recipes and serving suggestions.
West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee Inc. operates 235 retail stores in eight Midwestern states.