The production of Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of Italian cheeses, is one of long tradition and strict regulation. The cheese must be aged a minimum of 12 months before being inspected and deemed worthy of the DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) stamp. One thing that must be true of all Parmigiano Reggiano is that it is made from 100% raw cows milk. So how does a pure cows milk cheese become lactose free? Through a maturation process dating back several centuries.
During the early stages of maturation, bacteria turns the lactose into lactic acid. By the end of the minimum 12 months of aging, the amount of lactose in the cheese barely registers above 0. Despite its name, lactic acid is actually safe for those with a lactose intolerance.
There are a number of other hard, aged cheeses that are also lactose free, including Parmigiano Reggiano’s close cousin, Grana Padano. Just be aware. A cheese simply named “Parmesan” may not be aged enough to be lactose free. When purchasing a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano, always buy one with a bit of the rind with the “Parmigiano Reggiano” stamp, otherwise it may not be the real thing.
This is probably the recipe that I am most proud of. I spent a little time in Bologna this year where I learned some things that make this a truly authentic ragù Bolognese.
Making a Bolognese is different from making other sauces in that there is usually not a lot of liquid in the pot while cooking. Liquid is added in small amounts, then reduced, then repeated. If too much liquid is added at one time, then you are just boiling the meat and destroying its flavors.
Pork is the meat of choice in Bologna. While there, I spoke with some people that use only pork in their ragù. I like the flavor of beef, so I use a 50/50 ratio of pork to beef. Pancetta is common in many recipes I’ve seen and adds some nice flavor, but not necessary if cooking on a budget.
Really, a cup of milk, you ask? Yes. I was just as surprised as you are. The milk quickly reduces out, but it adds a richness and velvety texture to your ragù. Be sure that the milk is added just before the tomato paste.
I had only ever used a hearty red wine when making this recipe before my friend, Alessandro, turned me on to using a dry white wine. It really tastes great when using pancetta. I find myself alternating between the two…and yes, use the whole bottle (minus a hearty swig for yourself, of course).
Finally, do yourself a favor and serve the ragù with fresh pasta rather than dry. Giovanni Rana is a brand that makes a great tagliatelle, the traditional pasta for Bolognese. After boiling and draining the pasta, return the pasta and some of the ragù to the pot. Let them cook together on low heat for a couple of minutes.
…and of course, top with plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano.
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ lb. ground beef
1 ½ lb. ground pork
¼ lb. pancetta, ground or finely diced (optional)
1 cup whole milk
2 cups tomato paste
1 bottle of dry white or hearty red wine
3 bay leaves
Kosher or sea salt
Puree the chopped onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in a food processor. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Stirring frequently, cook vegetables until they are brown and almost all of the water has evaporated (about 20 minutes).
If using pancetta, add to vegetables and cook until brown (about 4 minutes). Add beef and pork, and season with salt. Cook until brown (about 15 to 20 minutes). Either drain mixture of fat or remove as much as you can with a spoon or ladle.
Add milk and stir until evaporated. Add tomato paste and let brown for about 3 minutes. Add wine and reduce to about half (about 5 minutes). Add water to pot until it levels just above the meat (about 2 cups). Add bay leaves. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer.
Stir occasionally while seasoning with salt and pepper. As the sauce thickens, add more water (2 cups at a time). Repeat this a couple of times. Simmer for about 4 hours. Remove bay leaves before serving.