Grana Padano - Gourmet Guide

June 12, 2019 | By Dave Mattingly

Grana Padano is a hard, all natural Italian cheese. Grana Padano was first created by Cistercian monks approximately 1,000 years ago as way for the dairy farmers of northern Italy's Po Valley to preserve excess milk from their herds. By the 15th century, Grana Padano was one of the most popular cheeses in Italy, and today continues to be Italy's best selling cheese worldwide. "Grana" comes from Latin for grainy, as this cheese does have a grainy texture. "Padano" translates to “of the Po River”.

Grana Padano is a pale yellow cheese with an intensely sweet flavor and a granular texture. The unique grainy texture of Grana Padano derives from the presence of protein crystals formed during maturation. Grana Padano is made with milk from Italian Holstein-Friesian cows, and is aged between 12 to 16 months (Grana Padano Fresco), 16 to 20 months, or between 20 to 30 months (called Grana Padano Stravecchio). As Grana Padano ages, its flavor becomes more intense, savory and complex and its texture becomes more crumbly.

In the 1950s, the Grana Padano Consortium was created in order to oversee production and uphold strict standards for its production. The Grana Padano Consortium inspects the cheese, and once it passes inspection, it is branded with the Grana Padano trademark. Grana Padano was awarded PDO (Designation of Protected Origin) status by the European Union in 1996 which regulates the production, quality and locations for where Grana Padano is to be made. Currently, Grana Padano is the most widely consumed PDO cheese in the world.

Another, perhaps even more famous Grana-type cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano. On average, Grana Padano is aged for a slightly shorter period of time, giving it a milder, more delicate flavor. Grana Padano Stravecchio (extra aged) is the ideal grating cheese, perfect for soups and salads, and is a superb complement to steamed veggies, pasta, veal or chicken.

Grana Padano is produced in massive, 80 pound cylindrical wheels Because its rind is so hard, Grana Padano cheese is very hard to cut, especially the first cut into a new wheel. There are special knives designed specifically for handling the difficult task of cutting Grana Padano into consumer-friendly wedge-shaped cuts. A "rough cut", where the cut piece of Grana Padano has a jagged surface, indicates that the cheese was cut by piercing the wheel with the pointed end of a knife then turning or flexing the knife to break off a wedge. A smooth cut indicates the cheese was cut with a food grade wire or band saw.

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