Origin: Italy, Po River Valley in Emilia Romagna
Grana Padano was created by the Cistercian monks of Chiaravalle in the 12th century and the same recipe is used today. It is made from unpasteurized, semi-skimmed cow’s milk. At the end of the cheesemaking process, Grana Padano develops a firm, thick and deeply straw-colored rind protecting the fragrant, dry, flaking interior. The name "Grana" comes from the word grain and refers to the grainy texture of the cheese.
The cheese is generally aged for 2 years. Though similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano is inexpensive because areas producing the cheese are bigger. Moreover, Grana is less crumbly, milder and less complex than its long-aged sibling.
The recipe and process of making Grana Padano are protected by its P.D.O. status. P.D.O stands for Protected Designation of Origin and is a set of guidelines that ensure the quality and authenticity of cheese sold under the name Grana Padano. The guidelines outline how the cheese is made and how long it is aged. Each wheel is tested for aroma and flavor before it can be branded with the P.D.O seal.
Grana Padano has a Natural rind that is technically edible, but too hard to eat. Some people like to throw a rind of Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano into a bowl of soup. The rind melts into the soup, adding flavor and texture.
A natural rind is a rind that develops on the outside of the cheese as the wheel ages. Many semi-firm or hard cheeses have natural rinds. The rinds can be thin, like on some Cheddar cheeses, or thick, like on a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano.
Grana Padano is sold at three different ages: 12 months, 16 months and 20 months. Each shares a nutty, buttery quality and a sharp fruitiness with a pleasantly salty finish. The flavors become more intense with age and the texture becomes more granular.
Uses and Pairings
Grana Padano can be thinly shaved so it melts on the tongue, grated into dishes, or if you're really hungry simply cut yourself a large chunk and take a bite. Grana Padano pairs well with figs and dried fruit, sliced apples, or a drizzle of honey. For a savory snack pair with walnuts, olives or cured meat.
The fruity, nutty flavor and rich texture of Grana Padano pair well with a full-bodied, aromatic white wine or a big Italian red like Barolo. The saltiness of Grana Padano can pair well with dessert wines.
For cooking, Grana Padano can be used in any recipe that calls for a hard cheese.
How Nutritious is Grana Padano
According to the Consorzio Tutela Grana Padano:
- Grana Padano cheese is an especially easy cheese to digest because enzymes break down the milk proteins in the cheese during the long aging process.
- Thirty grams (about one ounce) of Grana Padano has the same nutritional value as half a liter of milk.
- Fifty Grams (about 1.75 ounces) supplies sixty percent of an adult's daily calcium requirement.