“Grana Padano”, a versatile Italian cheese – World Meanderings (n°107)
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
With over 400 different cheeses Italy can boast a true cheese heritage and Grana Padano has a well-deserved prominent place in this long list. Made in Northern Italy since the 12th century its making process has not changed ever since. Grated, cut into shavings, raw or cooked, in salads, savoury dishes or even desserts, this delicious cheese is to be rediscovered.
Way back in Middle-Ages
Grana Padano was created by Benedictine monks living in the fertile Po Valley circa 1135 AD. These hardworking monks farmed the land and raised cows. They were thus able to produce great quantities of milk and the best way to keep it was of course to turn it into cheese. They created a totally new recipe and, having so much milk, they chose to make big wheels of cheese. Due to its grainy texture they named it “Grana”.
Respecting age-old traditions
The way Grana Padano is made has not changed since the monks’ era. Still today only fresh Italian raw milk can be used to make the big wheels. It takes 15 litres of milk to make just one kilo of cheese and when you eat a small 30 grams portion it’s as though you had drunk a pint of milk. Each wheel of Grana Padano is 7 to 10 inches high, 14 to 18 inches in diameter and weights 24 to 40 kg! They are slowly matured in huge stone cellars that look beautiful with their dozens of wooden shelves filled with thousands of big ochred wheels.
Grana Padano has a PDO since 1955. This PDO entails strict specification rules. They mean that the cheese can only be made in a specific area with fresh milk of cows bred in this same zone to bear the name Grana Padano. This vast area extends on the north bank of the Po River (while Parmesan cheese is made on its south bank). 129 dairies are part of the DPO and produce each year no less than 5 millions wheels of cheese of which 2 millions are exported worldwide.
Ageing, the key to success
Ageing creates tastes. It is the most important part of the making process of Grana Padano during which the cheese gains more and more complex flavours. The “younger” one is 9 to 15 months old. It doesn’t have the typical grainy texture but has a distinctive delicate milky taste. The “middle aged” Grana Padano is 16 to 20 months old is now grainy and has subtle flavours of hay and dried fruits. The “oldest” cheeses are 20 to over 24 months old and are called “Riserva”. Its taste is rich and full and its texture produces unmistakable triangular flakes. Each one can easily be identified by different logos printed on the crust of the wheels.
The 9 to 15 months cheese will ideally pair with white wines, carpaccio, salads or bressaola. The 16 to 20 months one will be perfect for cooked dishes such as meat or vegetable stuffing, quiche or pâté. You can also enjoy it simply grated on pasta, risotto or soups. Whether grated, cut in shavings or small pieces Grana Padano Riserva will magically pair a deli platter with a drop of balsamic vinegar or honey. It is also great on its own with a glass of a strong-bodied red wine.
Unusual recipes to surprise your taste buds
BLUEBERRY MOJITO & GRANA PADANO RISERVA CROQUETTES
1 kg potatoes
150 g Grana Padano Riserva
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
Boil the potatoes with the skins on in plenty of salted water, then peel them when cooked.
Mash the potatoes with a masher, add salt and pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, 2 egg yolks and the grated Grana Padano Riserva, then stir until the mixture is smooth and compact.
Using a spoon, shape into croquettes, dip in a bowl with 1 beaten egg and then in the breadcrumbs.
Arrange the croquettes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a preheated oven at 200 °C for 10-15 minutes, until golden.
Serve the croquettes while they’re still hot with a pinch of salt.
200 g blueberries
500 ml tonic water
Pour 2 teaspoons of brown sugar in each glass, add the juice of 1/2 lime, a few mint leaves and a few blueberries, gently mash the ingredients and add the ice.
Pour in the tonic water and serve immediately garnished with blueberries, slices of lime and mint leaves.
ARAGULA CHICKEN SALAD
58g Red Seedless Grapes
9g Grana Padano
8g Essenza Balsamic
10g Olive Oil
Boneless skinless chicken breast, 9oz., grilled
Place arugula, grapes and shaved Grana Padano on a plate. Top with grilled and sliced chicken breast, balsamic and olive oil.
DRIED FRUITS, NUTS AND GRANA PADANO PIE
500g puff pastry
50g mix of dried apricots, figs, prunes, pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds
3 tablespoons of honey
100g grated Grana Padano cheese, aged 20 for months
1 egg yolk
Icing sugar to dust
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.
Roll the puff pastry into a thin layer and cut the dough into long horizontal strips.
In a mortar, crush the dried fruits and nuts.
Add the honey and 50g of the grated Grana Padano cheese and use your hands to work the mixture into a paste.
Spread the paste onto the top of the dough.
Starting with a long side of the dough, roll it into a log, jelly-roll style.
Sprinkle the remaining 50g of Grana Padano onto the top of the dough.
Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Sprinkle with icing sugar once cooled and serve.
Grana Padano is a real plus when cooking and it would be a shame not to discover all it has to offer.
You will find many recipes at www.granapadano.it
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos and recipes courtesy of Consorzio Tutela Grana Padano