Grana Padano is a hard Italian cheese first created over a thousand years ago by the Cistercian monks from the Po Valley in Italy. It was created as a way to use up their surplus milk. The name is derived from ‘Grana’ which means grain because the texture of the cheese is rather grainy. Padano refers to the Pianura Padano or Po Valley where it originated.
Grana Padano is a semi-fat, hard cheese that is aged at least nine months and sometimes up to two years. It’s made today the same way it was 1,000 years ago with the exception of changes required by health standards. They start with raw milk that has been collected from cows raised in a defined area that are fed a strict diet of grasses and grains. They’re milked twice a day. The cream is skimmed and the milk is poured into traditional copper cauldrons. Natural whey and rennet are added to the milk and it’s heated until curd develops and settles to the bottom of the cauldron. The curd is collected and transferred to a mold where it gets its wheel shape. It rests and then is put into a salt brine so that it develops a rind. The cheese is then dried and left to ripen for nine to over 20 months. Three varieties of Grana Padano are available: cheese aged between nine and 16 months; cheese aged for over 16 months; and cheese aged for at least 20 months. It takes 135 gallons of milk to produce one 75 pound wheel of Grana Padano.
Grana Padano is a fairly versatile cheese. It can be enjoyed with fresh figs, grapes, olives and nuts or with honey as a dessert cheese. It can also be served with fresh bread and wine as a light meal. They suggest a white wine for the younger cheeses or a red wine for the more aged cheeses. Grana Padano can also be cooked with and used in Italian dishes like lasagna or even as a pizza topping.
I tried Grana Padano in lasagna and the flavor is amazing. It’s a very mature sharp cheese. It was very easy to grate and melted well into the dish. The taste lingers well without being overpowering. It has a lightly sweet, nutty flavor that I can see shaved over a garden salad or eaten in thick slices with prosciutto. I also tried it on crackers with Mostarda Mantovana di Pere (Pear “Mustard”) and was equally impressed by the flavor. I am truly hoping that I can find Grana Padano in the gourmet cheese section at my grocery store. I can see myself developing a serious addiction to this!