Photos: The Indian hands behind Italy’s famed Parmigiano-Reggiano

UPDATED ON SEP 04, 2018 12:00 PM IST
Cheesemaker Taljit Singh, uses a hammer to tap the cheese and listen for tones indicating whether it has aged at a Parmigiano Reggiano factory, near Reggio Emilia. Taking its name from Parma and Reggio Emilia, Parmigiano-Reggiano is North Italy’s most renowned export, and among the most popular cheeses in the world. It’s survival into the 21st century however rests largely on the shoulders of Sikh migrants from Punjab. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)
A worker pours collected cow’s milk into a bucket at the Dall’Aglio Farm in Gattatico. Italy saw a large number of immigrants seeking greener pastures arrive from Punjab in the 1980s. The Italian north, similar in its climate and terrain to Punjab, became a second home to many among them. The daily and agricultural industries provided jobs that were familiar. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)
The Italian cheesemaking industry in the latter half of the 20th century faced a shortage of unskilled workers willing to take up jobs in dairy and on farms, with young workers moving to urban centres. Incoming workers from Punjab, eager for employment fit the bill and helped despite their lack of Italian language skills. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)
Life on cheese farms is unsociable, beginning as early as 4am with the milking of the cows and the day’s work extends into the evening. People often work seven days a week with only seasonal holidays as breaks. Early immigrants impressed farm owners with their dedication despite such conditions at a time when locals were turning their backs on the industry. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)
Over the decades Indian migrant labour has become indispensible in keeping traditional methods of making what is often termed ‘The king of cheese’, alive. Their roles have largely involved work as highly prized support staff in milking, skimming, storing and packaging and not necessarily in making the actual cheese. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)
The initial wave of Sikh migrants, feted with above average salaries and free housing, also faced the trials of adapting to European lifestyles, placed deep in rural Italy as a near invisible minority. Many gave up turbans and long hair, and the kirpan kept as a prescribed religious article was banned by the Italian Supreme Court in 2017 highlighting a ways to go for religious recognition. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)
There are an estimated 200,000 Sikhs in Italy, agricultural and dairy workers forming a large part of that number. While official recognition of the religion has been slow, the community has woven itself in to the social fabric. The Reggio Emilia Gurudwara established in 2000, is among the county’s nearly two dozen and among Europe’s most important. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)
The quiet integration of the Sikh and larger Indian community into Italian society has also brought the cheese making industry full circle. Where they once filled a gap left by locals moving out, a new generation of Indian raised in Italy now face the same choices young Italians did decades ago. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)

Cheesemaker Taljit Singh, uses a hammer to tap the cheese and listen for tones indicating whether it has aged at a Parmigiano Reggiano factory, near Reggio Emilia. Taking its name from Parma and Reggio Emilia, Parmigiano-Reggiano is North Italy’s most renowned export, and among the most popular cheeses in the world. It’s survival into the 21st century however rests largely on the shoulders of Sikh migrants from Punjab. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)

A worker pours collected cow’s milk into a bucket at the Dall’Aglio Farm in Gattatico. Italy saw a large number of immigrants seeking greener pastures arrive from Punjab in the 1980s. The Italian north, similar in its climate and terrain to Punjab, became a second home to many among them. The daily and agricultural industries provided jobs that were familiar. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)

The Italian cheesemaking industry in the latter half of the 20th century faced a shortage of unskilled workers willing to take up jobs in dairy and on farms, with young workers moving to urban centres. Incoming workers from Punjab, eager for employment fit the bill and helped despite their lack of Italian language skills. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)

Life on cheese farms is unsociable, beginning as early as 4am with the milking of the cows and the day’s work extends into the evening. People often work seven days a week with only seasonal holidays as breaks. Early immigrants impressed farm owners with their dedication despite such conditions at a time when locals were turning their backs on the industry. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)

Over the decades Indian migrant labour has become indispensible in keeping traditional methods of making what is often termed ‘The king of cheese’, alive. Their roles have largely involved work as highly prized support staff in milking, skimming, storing and packaging and not necessarily in making the actual cheese. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)

The initial wave of Sikh migrants, feted with above average salaries and free housing, also faced the trials of adapting to European lifestyles, placed deep in rural Italy as a near invisible minority. Many gave up turbans and long hair, and the kirpan kept as a prescribed religious article was banned by the Italian Supreme Court in 2017 highlighting a ways to go for religious recognition. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)

There are an estimated 200,000 Sikhs in Italy, agricultural and dairy workers forming a large part of that number. While official recognition of the religion has been slow, the community has woven itself in to the social fabric. The Reggio Emilia Gurudwara established in 2000, is among the county’s nearly two dozen and among Europe’s most important. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)

The quiet integration of the Sikh and larger Indian community into Italian society has also brought the cheese making industry full circle. Where they once filled a gap left by locals moving out, a new generation of Indian raised in Italy now face the same choices young Italians did decades ago. (Marco Bertorello / AFP)

About The Gallery

The Italian cheese making industry in the latter half of the 20th century faced a shortage of workers on farms and factories with the country’s young workers turning to urban centres seeking white-collar jobs. With the production of the country’s famed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on a decline in the north, an unlikely source of aid in the 1980s became thousands of migrant workers from Punjab who, eager for employment and seeking greener pastures, took up the tedious, tiresome and often smelly task of producing the ‘King of cheese’.

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