Prior to the mass production of wood pulp paper, the most common type of paper in use was parchment paper. It's much stronger than regular paper and is able to hold up over time where other types papers cannot. Though no longer in such high demand, parchment paper continues to be used in modern times for important documents, calligraphy, crafts and even cooking. As papermaking technologies have advanced, the materials used in making parchment paper have changed.
Animal-Based Parchment Paper
Traditional parchment paper is made using incredibly thin animal skins (usually calf, goat or sheep) that have been specially prepared to be a writing surface. This process first involves cleaning and removing all hair and impurities from the animal skin. It's then stretched out on a frame and scraped with a curved knife to reduce the thickness. To keep the skin tight, it goes through a repeated wetting and drying process each time it's scraped. Once the parchment has reached the required thickness and tautness, it's removed from the frame and scraped a final time with a pumice stone. Chalk is then rubbed into the surface in order to prepare the parchment to absorb ink. Religious texts, land records and public texts are all documents that have historically been recorded on this type of parchment paper.
Cellulose Fiber Parchment Paper
In modern production, parchment is created using cellulose fibre from fir trees, cotton or flax. Also called vellum, this paper doesn't have the same longevity as traditional parchment but still stands up better than most forms of paper. There are two main types of modern parchment: translucent and vellum surface. Translucent parchment paper is manufactured in a variety of thicknesses and textures. This available variety makes translucent parchment well suited to scrapbooking and other paper crafts. Vellum surface parchment is designed to have the same texture as traditional animal skin parchment and is most often used for business documents and other important papers.
Silicone-Based Parchment Paper
While not used as a writing surface, a translucent, silicone-based form of parchment paper can be found in many modern kitchens. Parchment cooking paper is used as a lining between metal surfaces and foods in order to prevent sticking. This type of parchment paper tolerates the high temperatures required in baking and can be used more than once without losing its integrity. Parchment cooking paper is ideally suited to baking since it doesn't hold in any heat once it's removed from a heat source. This paper is also flexible enough to be folded into a bag-like shape for other baking processes.