Grana Padano is a hard, flaky, aged Italian cheese that can be compared to Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Grana means grain in Italian and refers to the texture.) Grana tends to be less crumbly, milder, and less nuanced than Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is aged for a longer minimum time frame.
- Milk Source: Cow
- Country of Origin: Italy (specifically the Po River Valley in Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy)
- Texture: Hard and grainy
- Aged: Nine to 20 months
- Color: Golden yellow rind, haylike interior
- Rind: Natural
What Is Grana Padano Cheese?
Grana Padano is an aged raw milk Italian cheese. It has a flaky, salty, nutty interior, encased with a thick, golden rind. (The natural rind is technically edible; however, it does best thrown into a pot of soup or beans to flavor it versus being consumed on its own.) Grana is produced in the Po River Valley in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, in the north of the country. The cheese is aged for a minimum of nine months and for a maximum of 20 months. While similar in flavor profile to Parmigiano-Reggiano, it's a more affordable alternative—because more regions are certified to produce Grana Padano.
How Is Grana Padano Cheese Made
The recipe for Grana Padano comes to us from 12th-century Cistercian monks, and believe it or not, the same recipe is basically used today—just with slightly updated equipment. Cows are milked twice a day, once in the morning, and once in the evening; typically, morning milk is lower in fat content. These two milks are mixed together to create a semi-skimmed milk that is left unpasteurized. This milk mixture is then mixed with whey and animal-derived rennet to form curd, which is then shaped into wheels and soaked in brine. This extracts moisture from the cheese and begins the aging process, which spans anywhere from nine to 20 months.
Grana Padano can only be labeled as such if it's produced in a very specific part of Italy. This is because the recipe and process of making Grana Padano are protected by its P.D.O. status, which stands for Protected Designation of Origin. All Grana wheels are inspected for texture, flavor, and aroma before they're allowed to be sold.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is probably the most similar, and certainly the most well-known substitute for Grana Padano. Pecorino romano will also work, although it's a touch sharper.
Grana Padano does equally well served on a cheese board—ideally accompanied by something sweet, like dates, figs, or a dab of good honey—as it is shaved over pasta or an elemental beef carpaccio. Although the cheese does incorporate well when finely grated and mixed with hot water (in a soup, for example) it really is prized for its fine, nutty crystals, not its melting quality. (So it wouldn't be ideal in a quesadilla, for example.)
Despite being low in moisture content, Grana Padano and similarly aged cheeses actually should be refrigerated. The ideal temperature is about 40 F, in a sealed food storage container or food storage bag. Just make sure your container is completely dry first so moisture doesn't collect within. When stored well, this cheese can last almost indefinitely in the fridge.
And while you can freeze it, it's not recommended, as it can result in a rather mealy texture. If you must, however, it's best to freeze it grated, securely stored in an airtight food storage container.
Grana Padano Cheese Recipes
Use Grana Padano in any of these recipes. Better yet, buy both Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano, and make the recipe with both—and see which one you like best.
Can You Eat the Rind?
It's not customary to eat the rind of Grana Padano—it's a little too hard to pleasantly chew on. That said, whatever you do, don't throw it away. This rind, just like the cheese itself, is jam-packed with flavor. It just needs a little work to be extracted. Throw it into a soup, risotto, stew, or even a pot of brothy beans, and let it simmer for an hour or two. Don't have time to do that? The rind also makes a great chew toy for dogs, with the hard texture of the rind being excellent for their gums and teeth.