What is Grana Padano?
Grana Padano is an aged Italian hard cheese that originates from the Po River Valley in northern Italy. It has a flaked, grainy texture, which is why it’s classified as a ‘grana’-style cheese – ‘grana’ being ‘grainy’ in Italian. Flavour-wise, Grana Padano has a nutty profile with a subtle saltiness that’s more gentle on the palate than its close counterpart, Parmigiano Reggiano.
Grana Padano is made from unpasteurised skimmed cows milk, which gives the cheese a lower fat content. This means it matures quite quickly and only has to be aged for nine months before it can be sold. You can however also find Grana Padano in 16-month and 20-month vintages that have had longer to develop their flavours.
How is it made?
We have a band of ingenious Italian monks to thank for the cheese we now know as Grana Padano. It was way back in the 12th century when the Cistercian monks of the Chiaravalle Abbey, not too far from Milan, had their brainwave. The monks ran a productive dairy farm and developed the recipe for a cheese that they could age as a way of preserving surplus milk.
Although more modern equipment is used today, the process and recipe has barely changed:
- First, the fresh skimmed milk is poured into traditional copper cauldrons and mixed with whey and rennet to produce curd.
- Then, the curd is broken up with a giant whisk (spino) before being heated, rested and shaped into wheels in a special mould called a fascera.
- Salting follows, with the wheels spending at least two weeks soaking in brine.
- Once that’s done, the wheels are dried and begin the all-important ageing process.
- Finally, experts inspect the aged wheels for texture, flavour and aroma, before releasing the golden rounds of Grana Padano to the world.
Nowadays, Grana Padano has Protected Designation of Origin status (PDO). This means that it can only be made in certain areas of northern Italy, and following this traditional method.
What does it pair with?
Grana Padano can be served on its own as an antipasti or as part of a cheeseboard, and marries up harmoniously with sweet accents like dates, figs or a drizzle of honey. It also pairs well with a host of wine styles, depending on how long it’s been aged for:
- Aged for 9-16 months: With a sweet, nutty aroma, young Grana Padano goes best with lighter wines. A glass of chilled Prosecco or a pale rosé is a great place to start.
- Aged for more than 16 months: With extra ageing come notes of butter and hay, which match well with less tannic red wines like a young Chianti or Bardolino.
- Aged for 20 months (Riserva): Mature and well-rounded, this vintage calls for a red wine with real depth. Amarone della Valpolicella would hit the spot, as would a Sicilian Nero d’Avola.
Cooking with Grana Padano
As an ingredient, Grana Padano is a versatile cheese. Like its cousin, Parmigiano Reggiano, it’s well-suited to grating over pasta or risotto – but you can also add shavings to more delicate dishes like a fig and prosciutto salad. Don’t forget the rind either. Whilst it’s not great to eat on its own, adding a spent rind of Grana Padano to a simmering pot of soup will add a heft of umami – just remember to remove the rind before you serve your soup!
Is it vegetarian?
As animal rennet is used in the production process – which is strictly protected because of the cheese’s PDO status – Grana Padano isn’t suitable for vegetarians. The same process does have its benefits though. Despite being made nearly entirely from milk, the way that Grana Padano is made and aged means the cheese is naturally lactose-free.
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