Tag: CHS

And you thought you knew Parmesan.

Heading further north in our CHS Inc. sponsored agricultural immersion trip, the team’s next stop is the heart of Parma’s iconic cheese production region. Our team gathered at the Parmigiano-Reggiano packaging facility and donned our paper hairnets, overcoats, and plastic booties to enter the processing plant.

Guest blogger: Annicka Webster, MBA’15

DSC_0064The tour began in the most hallowed of places: the parmesan storage warehouse. Here, artisan-crafted wheels of parmesan (400,000 in total) are aged for 24-30 months to develop the right taste and consistency of one of Italy’s most well-known cheeses. Like many of the traditional products made in Italy, the production and quality assurance of protected designation of origin (PDO) products like Parmigiana-Reggiano is overseen by a consortium. The consortium is responsible for protecting the designation of origin and preserves the cheese’s authenticity and rich history of production by guaranteeing the process followed by the area’s independent producers.


DSC_0045Local cheese-makers prepare the cheese in 40kg wheels that are inspected by the consortium and marked with the inscription “Parmigiano-Reggiano” around the rind. Each wheel is also stamped with the month of preparation, the number identifying the workshop where the cheese was produced, and the consortium’s official seal (pictured at right). Then the deliciously crafted masterpieces are collected for aging.

How can you tell that the cheese is ready? With a hammer!

Parmesan cheeseWhen the cheese has aged for over 2 years, experts check each wheel with a small hammer, training their connoisseurs’ ears on the sound and reverberations of the cheese. Our hosts showed us the inside of a wheel of cheese and discussed the different textures and uses for the various parts: cheese on the outside of the wheel is harder and better suited for grated products. Cheese in the middle is higher-quality and better used for cheese wedges like those found in your local grocery, or in my opinion, best used for immediate consumption. One of the many highlights of the visit was the moment when our hosts pulled a wheel down and split it open just for us to taste.

DSC_0094When the cheese is ready and its quality has been assessed, it enters the packaging facility where it is cleaned, carved, weighed, and packaged. There is very little waste in this facility because the entire wheel can be used. Pieces that are rejected by quality assurance for improper sizing or breakage are sent to the grating room where they can be finely grated into the table parmesan that can be found in virtually every restaurant, and especially pizza parlor, in Italy.

We saw multiple packaging lines and various products being prepared from deli-style cheese wedges, to individual snack packs, to grated cheese blends. The most notable part of the factory was the emphasis on quality assurance. Each step of the process was overseen by an employee and double- or triple- checked by computer. In a matter of minutes, a wheel of cheese was sliced, diced, measured, measured again, wrapped, counted, and packaged.

From the director of the facility to the production line workers, you can see the pride for their product in the faces of every Parmigiano-Reggiano employee. They are fiercely proud of their cheese and its authentic origins. “No green bottles here.” Only delicious artisanal creations.

Having had some time to reflect back on the trip I have begun to realize what an amazing experience CHS Inc. provided the students here at Olin. The time we spent in the Parmigiano-Reggiano factory was an experience like no other. Tasting fresh parmesan from a wheel straight from the factory was something I will never forget and I am thankful that CHS Inc. was able to provide us this experience. From marketing to operations the opportunities available for students in the agricultural industry abound and I hope these trips help people learn of the amazing opportunities available in the agricultural sector.

After leaving the famous city of Florence, colored by its buzzing streets and magnificent architecture, we headed south to explore the rich lands of the Tuscan countryside. The first stop of our journey was a town called San Gimignano. The drive to the town was almost as glorious as the town itself, endless miles of scenic rolling hills, enriched with vineyards and groves of olive trees.

CHS Blog 3.1The town is set on a hill with narrow streets, cobblestone roads, and high defensive walls. The most noticeable characteristic about the town are its famous towers which date back to a period when prosperous families sought prestige by building towers to match the height of their status. Currently 14 of the 72 original towers still remain. We were lucky enough to climb the Torre Grossa to catch an exquisite view of the piazza and the rolling hills of Tuscany. Despite the fierce winds at the top of the tower, the essence of beauty and culture this little town exuded is one I will always remember.

Continuing on the cultural leg of the journey our travels took us to the Tuscan city of Siena. Nothing is better than eating gelato and roaming the streets of Siena. This little medieval town has insanely steep cobblestone streets that will give your glutes a run for their money. CHS Blog 3.4 Siena

The central piazza, known as Il Campo, (at right), is shaped like a seashell, which is different than any other piazzas we’ve seen. We learned that a horse-race occurs twice a year in July and August around the piazza, and each of the 18 districts of Siena has it’s own horse and flag.

CHS Blog 3.5 Siena




The Duomo of Siena (at left), is nothing shy of spectacular.

One of my favorite pictures taken on this trip was the cathedral with its zebra like black and white stripes and large pane circular window that let the sunlight flow through. We left Siena right at sunset, as we strolled through the streets, the ambience of the muted voices and dim street-lights was warm and soothing.

For a moment there, I lost myself in the breathtaking beauty of Siena and stopped in time in the 13th century. Check back for the next blog post as we pick up our CHS Inc. agricultural tour of Italy with a tour of a Tuscan winery run by one family for 13 generations.

As our group took to the cars and departed Florence city center, there was a peaceful serenity that enveloped us as we climbed the hills surrounding Florence and gazed upon the olive tree laden hillsides.  We were greeted enthusiastically by Tomas as we entered Fattoria de Maiano and were provided a brief history of the estate and the olive production process.

I was especially intrigued by the fact that the site was at one time an old convent and a quarry (14th century) that provided the marble and stone for the majority of the buildings in the city of Florence, including the Duomo, at that time.

CHS Blog 2.2We were first shown The Villa di Maiano, the impressive main house on the estate, which still had the original décor and furnishings and was the set for the films Tea with Mussolini and A Room with a View. We toured through the house, the exterior garden and terrace. Awed by the views, we saw the working olive farm situated on nearly 300 hectares of land encompassing nearly 20,000 olive trees.

The estate had passed through various owners and was purchased by Sir John Temple Leader in 1844. Leader with his wife, revitalized the estate and surrounding areas until his death in 1903 when possession was transferred to Professor Teodoro Stori, a famous Florentine surgeon.  His niece, Countess Lucrezia Miari Fulcis dei Principi Corsini, inherited the Villa, and her children and grandchildren continue to work the farm and estate today.

CHS Blog 2.3From the villa, Tomas graciously gave us a tour of the estate mill and described the olive oil production process.  I was impressed when he said that the olives are picked entirely by hand and that the estate is completely organic.  The olives are typically picked in November and December, and they are processed in the olive mill via a cold extraction process within 6.5 hours of being picked.

It was such a learning experience as he described how the olives are first separated from the leaves in the hopper and various conveyor belts before being crushed through a series of disks in the olive press.  The oil is then separated from the olive rinds in a double centrifugal press, whose operation naturally pushed the oil one direction and the olive rinds the other.  After separating the various lots, the olive oil is stored in airtight drums until receipt of the order that requires the bottling process.

CHS Blog 2.4When I first learned of the trip, and the support it had received from the CHS Foundation to gain exposure to the agriculture industry, I was excited at the opportunity to learn more about the food products I use in my everyday life. Fattoria de Maiano did not disappoint. It was incredible to see the entire process and to learn exactly how extra virgin olive oil is characterized and the difference from regular virgin olive oil – extra virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have superior taste.

Olive oil tasting.

Olive oil tasting.

It was awesome to taste their regular extra virgin olive oil and compare it with their premium extra virgin olive oil, Laudemio, which has won awards in Los Angeles and Tokyo.  This was a fantastic visit with wonderful hospitality and information, and if I am ever in the area in the future, I look forward to visiting Fattoria de Maiano again.

I am thankful for the support from CHS, and the CHS Foundation, for allowing us the opportunity to take an in depth look at agricultural products we use in our daily lives. This  has been a once in a lifetime experience and I am grateful for the support from CHS for making it possible.

Guest Blogger: Kimberly Holden, MBA’15

“The European Union is the second largest agricultural export market in the world. The Italian agriculture sector represents over 17% of Italy’s GDP. These two factors make Italy an ideal location to study the European agriculture industry,” explained Brandon Smith, MBA’15, before he left for two weeks in Italy over Spring Break. Smith who is Graduate Business Student Association President and trip coordinator for the CHS Italian Agriculture and Energy Market Immersion Trip was instrumental in obtaining sponsorship support for the trip through the CHS Foundation.

The sponsorship support from CHS will help cover travel, and travel related expenses for nine students to participate in a number of agricultural and energy related site visits and tours across central and northern Italy.

CHS Inc. is a multibillion-dollar Minnesota-based Fortune 100 company with interests in food processing and wholesale, farm supply, and financial services, among many others. Carl Casale, EMBA’92, is president and CEO of the company.

ItalymapOver the next week, members of the CHS tour will contribute blog posts and photos from their trip. Companies that stand out on the travel itinerary include:

Students will also visit cultural and historic sites across the region. The support received from CHS will allow Olin students to bring back priceless knowledge, real-world experience, and exposure to the opportunities present in the agriculture and energy industries.

Smith said, “In the world today, MBA students often overlook the opportunities in the agriculture and energy sector. Through this sponsorship, CHS, and the CHS Foundation, has demonstrated a commitment to investing in future leaders and exposing a new generation of MBA leaders to the agriculture and energy sector”.

The CHS Foundation is the major giving entity of CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company. As a part of the CHS stewardship focus, the CHS Foundation is committed to investing in the future of rural America and agriculture and cooperative business through education and leadership development.