VikingGenetics, Ethics and Parmesan: an Italian family tale

The Giaroli family runs a dairy operation in Marmirolo (RE), the typical exclusive area where world known Parmigiano-Reggiano can be made. The family milk about 500 cows and the story of the Giarolis, their connection to cows and cheese started back in 1929. 

Ernesto Giaroli first settled nearby where the farm is today, with just three cows. The milk was already going to Parmesan in a local cheese factory and Ernesto’s seven sons followed their father’s path. One of his sons, Ello is now 83 years old. Six of eight of Ello’s sons (six boys and two girls) are currently managing the farm and their own cheese factory, that was built in the early 90’s. 

Currently, 13 people work at the farm; three of them work at the milking parlour, twice a day in a 40-places rotatory parlour. The Giaroli family members working on the farm now are Pietro (59) head of the cheese factory where four more people are employed; Luigi (56) in charge of feeding and administration, Elio (53) who looks after field and crops, Sauro (52) as herd manager, Angela (45) as responsible for milking operations and Ivana (39) who is manager for feeding and weaning of young calves. The rest of the brothers, Paolo and Ernesto, don’t work on the farm.

The farm changed manager and breeding strategy three years ago. Now, 100% of inseminations are made with VikingHolstein bulls or ProCROSS. First bulls used were Jul, Onside, Mason, Sol, Etoto, Limbo, Opman among the Holsteins and Foske, Haslev, Jurist, Brolin for crossbreeding. Nowadays, the 1st calves are all daughters of these bulls. Bulls currently in use for Holsteins are Bernell, Clark, Booth, Merti and Cosmo while for ProCROSS are Tokyo, Vimpula, Hattrick, Fenton, Crasat, Cortil, Helux and Genotop. 

Left: VikingGenetics distributor in Italy Claudio Mariani (left), Genesi Project and Jan Andresen (right), VikingGenetics Export Manager have visited the Giaroli farm often.

Right: Claudio is checking the semen doses for the Giaroli farm.


The managment of the farm changed about three years ago when the oldest brother started his own operation. All of a sudden the rest of the family decided to take over and despite many obstacles in the beginning, the family got together and worked towards the same goal, managed to success. 

Nowadays,  Sauro is pleased with the results, averaging well over 32 milk kg (per day per cow) with 2.70 casein. He says they could make something more and they eventually will, as the main goal is producing same milk (155 milk ton consigned to cheese factory every day) with fewer cows.

They want to improve, rather than increase. More efficient cows, less labour, less expenses, more revenue: as simple as this.

Claudio walking in the Giaroli farm.
Therefore, they have set some protocols for post partum, calvings, milking, breeding, and most of the daily routines are determined so that everybody knows exactly what to do and when.

Today most common causes for culling cows are mastitis and a few for fertility or because they are old cows. Hoof routine is managed by an external trimmer and they normally trim at dry time and 130 dim (days in milk). Heifers (1st calving) will be hoof trimmed at 90 dim.

All cows have a VWP (voluntary waiting period) of 60 days and they use pedometers for heat detection. Today, heifers receive their 1st insemination at 14 months of age and average age at 1st calving is 25.8 months. Days open are now set at 120 days, but often through the year is even lower.

500 cows are milked twice a day in this 40-places rotary parlour.


All calves get colostrum and from the second day and all calves enter the single pen for 20 days, then they are grouped: in summer they are put outside in the field in multiple boxes of eight calves while in winter they stay in groups of four. Weaning is at 90 days normally, but calves start having hay at day 20. 

Calves by VH Clark and VR Donato at Giaroli farm.
The reduction of antibiotics has been huge in the last period, and today for Ivana (calf manager) it’s really unusual to treat a calf. Last year 248 female calves were born and 11 died (4.4%). Surely there’s room for more improvements, and they are studying new facilities for the young stock, but anyway they already proved themselves they can make it. 

Cheese production 

The cheese factory includes five people working for producing a fine Parmesan. Pietro and Donatella are in charge of this important part, where all the farm work comes to its final stage. Today, they produce 36 cheesecloths per day, weighing about 38 kg each after one  year of seasoning. On average, here they need 100 milk kg to make eight kg of cheese, but those parameters can vary depending on milk composition and its properties, other than ability of the cheese maker. Cow feeding is also crucial as it is forbidden by the Parmesan Consortium to use sileage (such as corn) because the seasoning is longer than 12 months and bumps or holes could occurr in the cheese due to sileage fermentation. Milk has to be not too rich on fat but high in Casein (the closest to 3.00 the better).  

1. Every pot contains about 1200 kg milk that will result in 2 fresh cheesecloths.
2. Here it comes...every day 36 of these are made with fesh milk.
3. Starting to give them the typical shape, and meanwhile the cheese factory logo is printed on each one.
4. Aged to perfection: temperature and humidity are controlled to be the same all through the year.

Giaroli Farm

If you ever will be in Italy, do not forget to plan a visit to this friendly family farm: doors are always open for a cup of coffee and a taste of their special cheese, made with passion since 1929.  
Left  to right, front row : Matteo (8), Giona (7), Tommaso (11), Elia (12), Giacomo (9)
Middle row : Ello (83), an F1 calf by Niki then Ivana (39), Helena (9) holding an F1 sired by FADIL, Angela (45)
Back row : Nicola (15), Samuele (17), Debora (14) Lorenzo (15), Donatella (54), Pietro (59), Milena (48) Elio (53), Sauro (52) Emma (5), Paolo (46), Luigi (56), Enrica (56).

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