We just got in a twenty pound cut (1/4 wheel) of Grana Padano, aged Italian cow's milk cheese, which we have learned is used in Italian-American restaurants everywhere as Parmesan because it approximates the same flavor at a lower price point. Sadly, we bought the cheese for the same reason, which seems to reduce it's raison d'etre to a percentage of worth relative to it's superior.
Grana Padano received its DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) government sanctioned classification in 1996, which seems a little late considering there is written documentation of its creation in 1135. As usual the monks get the creation credit here again. This time its Cistercians near Milan who were motivated by their desire to preserve extra milk from dairy farmers. By 1500 the cheese was famous and today it is Italy's best selling cheese worldwide.
Grana means "grain" and refers to the cheese's grainy texture; Padano refers to the Po River Valley and it is in these environs that we get our insights into Grana Padano's relationship with Reggiano-Parmesan. Grana Padano is sourced from dairy farms in five regions: Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Piedmont, Trentino, and Veneto. Reggiano is sourced only from Emilia-Romagna and a small region in Lombardy.
Reggiano is made from whole raw cow's milk; Grana Padano, from partially skimmed milk. Both use a blend of morning and evening milkings for uniformity. Both are then twice "cooked", carefully raising the temperature of the milk ultimately to about 55 degrees. Grana is then aged nine months while Reggiano is given twelve. After aging, both cheeses receive inspections from their respective consortiums for the purpose of grading the quality of the cheese. Those passing inspection get their natural rind firebranded with a trademark or, if unsatisfactory, left unbranded.
Reggiano-Parmesan is crumblier, stronger, and more complex than Grana Padano so it seems Grana really is the lesser cheese than Reggiano both in price and quality. Well, maybe. There are actually three grades of Grana Padano: Grana Padano Fresco, the one described above, aged nine to sixteen months; Grana Padano "oltre 16 mesi", aged sixteen to twenty months; and Grana Padano Stravecchio, aged twenty to thirty months. While I don't know the costs here, I'm betting they taste real good!
One last note here: both Reggiano and Grana Padano have the tyrosine crystals that everyone loves in aged cheeses. Not only do they crunch with each bite but they sure taste sweet too!
This Friday at the weekly event (5-7pm) Taylor Moore of Eagle Rock Distributing rejoins us with a tasting of new Napa Valley wines. Ca' Momi is the brand and they are made by Italians in California! Guess we better set out some Grana for this one. Please join us.
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