What’s the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano?

What’s the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano?

Let's just make this clear at the outset, there is no such thing as parmesan. Parmesan is a corruption of the word Parmigiano just as the product itself is a corruption of actual cheese. Parmigiano Reggiano must be made in the Italian cities of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua. Parmesan is made in a nameless factory by automatons – end of story.

And then there’s Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano’s sibling, which varies in flavour, as well as in regionality and production.

Parmigiano Reggiano
pronounced par-mu-JAR-no reh-jee-AH-noh (it’s really fun to say over and over again)

Parmigiano Reggiano production goes all the way back to the 13th century but it is the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano (formed in 1934) that today continues to uphold its reputation for quality. It must be made in a strictly controlled area covering only 5 provinces, animals are exclusively fed hay and grass (no silage), it’s made with mix of whole and skimmed milk, it is aged for a minimum of 12 months at which time it is inspected by the Consorzio and, if approved, given its signature branding.

At Harper & Blohm we are proud to stock G. Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano which originates from San Pietro Dairy (producer number 2659) in the Appennini hills of Modena. The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano also has a handy tool for looking up the particular dairy where each wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano is made – find it here. Using raw milk from less than 100 cows, Massimo & Laura Libra hand-produce only six wheels of cheese per day.

As the cheese matures until strict humidity and temperature conditions – 14 degrees C and 85% humidity – a little of the natural fat tends to weep out. This is then rubbed into the cheese’s leathery rind with a soft brush, forming a natural protective coat against any surface moulds.

On the occasion of their first birthday (12 months of age), all wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano receive a visit from a Consorzio inspector. The rind is visually checked for any cracks or holes, it is tapped with a small hammer (the resultant sound meaning more to experts than us lay people) and on occasion a small needle inserted to check the interior. Once approved officially, the rind is hot-branded signifying official approval.

After 12 months, only the best examples are selected by Giorgio Cravero and taken to Bra, in Piedmont, to continue their meticulous maturation. Giorgio continues the family legacy, being the fifth generation to mature cheese in Bra, home of the world-renowned bi-annual Slow Food Cheese festival.

There are three seals associated with the age of the cheese: red seal - aged 18 mths flavours of milk, grass, fruit/vegetables; silver seal - aged 22 mths balance of sweet/savoury with notes of melted butter and nuts; gold seal - aged 30 mths crumbly texture, flavour tends to nutty and spicy.

It is a privilege to witness a skilled cheesemonger open a massive 35kg wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, the careful attention honouring the labour of farmers, cheesmakers and all who contributed to this exalted product. We found a video here for the true curd nerds.

The rind is scored using a specialist hook tool that looks a little like a cross between a crochet needle and a knife. Then a couple of stubby double-edged picks are inserted at a 45-degree angle into the cut line. This move is repeated several times around the entire wheel and gradually these wedges start to split the wheel open. In reality, the cheese is not cut open but cleaved apart as natural fissures in the firm dense interior give way.

Grana Padano
pronounced GRAH-nah pah-DAH-noh (slightly less fun to say)

Grana Padano must be aged for a minimum of 9 months and is made with partially-skimmed milk, as opposed to Parmigiano Reggiano which uses a mix of skimmed milk from the day before and whole milk from that day’s milking. Grana Padano is produced in 27 provinces across Lombardy, Piedmont, Trentino and Veneto regions (the Po River Valley). According to the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano, 5,164,59 wheels of Grana Padano were produced in 128 dairies in the year 2019, while 3,754,192 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano were produced across 321 dairies.

The colour of Grana Padano ranges from white to straw and the taste can vary from sweet to pungent (with age) with more white spots/crystals appearing [appropriately] with age. At 9 months it will taste clean and milky, at 16 months there’ll be notes of butter and hay and finally at 22 months of age you can detect layers of dried/roasted fruit and beef stock.

Storage

  • When you buy a piece of freshly cut Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, keep it in the specialised cheese paper provided. We also sell Formaticum cheese paper which is specifically designed for extending the life of cut cheese. Alternatively, you can wrap your cheese in waxed paper and then place it in a loose-fitting food bag.
  • As cheese can dry out if too cold, place it in the warmest part of your fridge, possibly the vegetable drawer at the bottom.
  • If a little mould develops on the surface, using clean hands scrape the surface with the back of a clean knife and wrap in fresh paper.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano rinds can be kept in your freezer to use in stocks and the odd end of cheese to grate into sauces.

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