Grana Padano, The World’s Most Popular DOP Cheese
A cheese that’s been thriving for 1,000 years? Its makers must have been doing something right. Grana Padano, which was born in 1135 in the hands of monks of the Abbey of Chiaravalle, Italy. In those days, aging cheese was a crucial part of preserving the surplus milk; over the centuries, Grana Padano has become a gourmet staple of Italian cuisine and is now the best-selling Italian DOP cheese in the world.
DOP is a label of appellation indicating that an Italian product is made exclusively in certain regions of Italy. “In the case of Grana Padano, it can only be made in 5 specific regions of northern Italy, spanning from Piedmont to Veneto, and using milk from cows in those regions only and following very strictly regulated step-by-step procedures,” explains Giovanni Guarneri, CEO of PLAC www.plac-cremona.it one of Italy’s most important producers of Grana Padano DOP.
How Grana Padano Is Made
The process for making Grana Padano hasn’t changed much since the monks first devised the method. And even though technology is more advanced now, you’d be surprised to see how much is still done by hand, even when the production is large scale.
For example, after the milk is skimmed and combined—only the milk from two milkings can be used per day—, and natural whey starter and calf rennet is added, the cheese makers plunge their arms in the huge bell-shaped copper cauldrons to make sure the curds necessary for the cheese are just right consistency.
After a resting period of about an hour, which allows the curd mass to grow firm, two cheese makers then work together using a wooden shovel and a linen cloth to extract it from the bottom of the cauldron and divide into two equal parts.
These “twin wheels,” as they’re called, are wrapped in linen or jute cloth and placed in plastic molds for 24 hours.
The wheels are then moved into steel molds for another 24 hours, before being
soaked in a brine to begin the aging process.
They’re then moved onto wooden shelves in huge aging rooms, where they are turned over every 15 days. As you walk in, surrounded by wheels stacked high to the ceiling, you can tell by the color gradations, from ivory to a warm golden hue, how young or old the cheeses are. Because of the long aging process, Grana Padano is virtually lactose-free.
Inspectors meticulously review the cheeses with a small cheese hammer, a needle, and a probe—to make sure the cheese wheels are perfect. Only then will the wheels get the coveted fire-branded Grana Padano mark.
Penne with Figs & Grana Padano Print This Post
Cooking dried figs in white wine makes them soft and sweet as fresh figs.
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 cup white wine
12 dried Calimyrna figs, about 9 ounces, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 pound penne
1/2 cup shaved Grana Padano DOP cheese
8 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon whole pink peppercorns, optional
Heat the butter and oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat until the butter melts. Sauté the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the wine and figs and simmer until the wine is absorbed and the figs soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in the stock and simmer, covered, for about 7 minutes.
Meantime, cook the penne according to package directions. Drain and toss with the fig sauce.
Serve the penne topped with Grana Padano, prosciutto, and if you like, a sprinkle of peppercorns.