Region: Po River Valley of Italy
Milk: Raw cow part skim
Texture: Firm, granular, grates easily
Grana Padano is Italy’s most popular hard cheese. Whether eaten on its own or grated over pasta and salad, its deep golden color, fruity aroma, firm texture loaded with deliciously crunchy amino acid crystals (concentration of calcium lactate) and sweet caramel-like taste make it irresistible.
Like the French A.O.C. label, Italy has D.O.P – Denominazione di Origine Protetta – which ensures the authenticity and quality of regional food products. Thanks to its D.O.P. label, P.D.O. in English (Protected Designation of Origin), Italy has preserved many of the cheesemaking traditions involved in producing Grana Padano. For instance, the cheese can only be produced north of the Po River, in the following five regions: Lombardy, Emilia Romagna (only the province of Piazenza), Veneto, Piedmont and Trentino (only the province of Trento). Hence, the name “Padano” meaning “of the Po River.”
In addition, Grana Padano is only made from the skimmed milk of Italian Holstein-Friesian cows (known as “frisona” or “pezzata nera“). The milk stands overnight, for a period of about 12 hours, after which the cheese-makers remove the top layer of cream, creating skimmed milk (not to be confused with skim milk which has almost no fat, or less than half of a percent, to be specific). “The use of skimmed milk creates a sweet delicate flavour and a palatable taste that’s lower in fat and higher in protein.
The cheese actually matures quicker as a result of the skimmed milk. In terms of production, this is the crucial difference between Grana Padano and Parmigiano-Reggiano, both “grana-style” cheeses – “grana,” meaning “grain” in Italian, refers to the grainy texture of the cheese.
Grana Padano is cooked twice and bathed in brine before it is left to age. The resulting rind is firm, waxen and deeply straw-colored, protecting a fragrant, dry, flaking paste with sweet, nutty flavor that is never tangy.
Grana Padano is a highly versatile cheese, when young, it is best eaten raw since it is softer and delicate. When it is mature and grated, its more distinct flavour enhances soups, risotto and pasta dishes. Pair with a fine Italian Brut or Vino Lugano for white; a Barolo or Brunello for red. For a longer aged (over two years) Grana Padano, you can pair it with a fortified wine such as Marsala Soleras.