Massimo Bottura's obsession with Parmigiano-Reggiano

How did chef Bottura's restaurant become the best in the world? A look at the way he treats cheese may be a clue

Modena, Italy has given the world many things. To music, it lent its operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti. To the world of cars, Modena birthed the founder of the Ferrari. But the northern Italian town has given the most to the world's palate: rich balsamic vinegar, melt-in-your-mouth Parmigiano-Reggiano — and the best restaurant on Earth, Osteria Francescana.

Massimo Bottura is the larger-than-life owner of Osteria Francescana, which has earned the top spot in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. A true son of Modena, Bottura makes his own balsamic vinegar and buys the finest Parmigiano-Reggiano. Or rather, more accurately, he obsesses over them.   

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Recently, Bottura took 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl on a tour of a cheese warehouse, a repository filled row-on-row with 8,000 stacks of Parmigiano-Reggiano wheels. Each wheel is made from 550 liters, or about 145 gallons, of milk and weighs up to 85 pounds. The cheese ages for 26 months, and as it first begins to mature, its lactose transforms into lactic acid, making it a cheese that lactose intolerant people can digest.  

Parmigiano-Reggiano is so important to the Emilia-Romagna region, where Modena is, that one local bank still uses the giant wheels as collateral for small-business loans. That's why the town faced a crisis in May 2012, when two major earthquakes struck the Emilia-Romagna region with a force that leveled buildings — and destroyed more than 350,000 wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Bottura wanted to help. After the earthquakes, he created a unique take on the Roman pasta dish cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper). He used local rice and made risotto cacio e pepe, a dish that salvaged almost 1,000 broken wheels of cheese.

It's no surprise, then, that Bottura takes the Parmigiano-Reggiano he uses very seriously. On one of the farms where he gets his cheese, the cows graze in open pastures and listen to Mozart when they are milked. At Osteria Francescana, diners can sample the result in Bottura's dish "five ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano."

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In the video above, Bottura opens up a wheel of cheese for Stahl. As Stahl chews a piece of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, Bottura explains the key ingredient in making it so delicious.  

"We are artisans obsessed about quality," Bottura says. "We are obsessed. Obsession in life is the secret of success."   

To view Stahl's 60 Minutes story about Massimo Bottura's new project, click here.

The video above was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.