Friday, July 8, 2011

Cheese: Grana Padano

Grana Padano is a DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) raw cow's milk cheese made in the Po Valley of northern Italy.
"Grana" means grain, referring to the grainy texture of the cheese and "Padano" means "of the Po River." Grana Padano can only be made north of the Po River in the regions of Lombardy, Emilia Romagna (only the province of Piazenza), Veneto, Piedmont and Trentino (only the province of Trento). It was developed by the Cistercian monks of Chiaravalle Abbey founded in 1135 near Milan. By 1477 it was the most famous cheese in Italy and one of the very first hard cheeses made. 
It is made similarly to Parmigiano Reggiano. Like Parmigiano Reggiano, it is made of raw cow's milk, coagulated in copper vats and the curd broken into small pieces the size of rice grains and heated. Grana Padano is typically not aged as long as Parmigiano Reggiano and is less crumbly, more mild, less salty, and less nutty. 
The differences in taste are due to: (a) Parmigiano Reggiano using some whole milk, while Grana Padano uses all skimmed milk; (b) the milk comes from cows in different regions which have different diets; and (c) Parmigiano Reggiano is aged a little longer (because Grana Padano uses all skimmed milk, it matures more quickly). 
Because of the lower price, many Italians prefer it to its more famous cousin. Grana Padano aged 9 to 16 months has a creamy texture and is only slightly grainy. Grana Padano oltre is aged 16 to 20 months and is more crumbly and has a more pronounced taste (the cheese we tasted was aged 18 months) and Grana Padano Riserva is aged over 20 months and is grainy, crumbly and full flavored. The Grana Padano we had from Trader Joe's was aged 18 months. It was dense, a little crumbly and very dry. It was dryer and stiffer near the rind. I was expecting it to be stronger than it was. I like the stronger cheeses and so prefer the Parmigiano Reggiano, and more than that, the Pecorino Romano. While in Munich, Germany, recently, we saw a very large chunk of Grana Padano in a food court in the airport.
The hard outer rind was retained as a container and the insides had been grated and was used to scoop onto pasta and other dishes. 

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