Grana Padano Cheese – 3 Vintage Deliciousness

Have you ever tasted this cheese? It’s similar to Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan). Grana – meaning grainy – is part of the consistency of this cheese. Padano, the production area of Piaruna Padan is part of the Po River in Northern Italy. The Grana Padano non-profit consortium brings together cheese mongers from all over 32 provinces within Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Trentino South Tyrol. As this is a PDO (Protected Designation Origin) cheese, milk must be used from these production areas to comply with the EU Standards. Grana Padano was the most consumed cheese in Italy in 2021. While I was at the 2022 Wine Media Conference in Lake Garda, Lombardy, I had the opportunity to taste it several times. Whenever I would see the yellow Grana Padano signs at many of the roundabouts I would get an immediate craving for it!

What makes this cheese so delicious is the high quality mineral water flowing down the mountains into the River Po, which results in high quality grass for the cows to eat and produce milk. The milk is naturally skimmed, with less fat, and the aging results in a lactose free cheese. The cheese has a similar taste to Parmesan, yet it is more  buttery, delicate and less crumbly. It melts well and grates easily.

The tradition of making this cheese has been passed down from over 1000 years ago when the Cistercian monks of Chiaravalle were deciding what to do with an abundance of milk and how to store it. These monks slow cooked the milk, and added rennet and salt to create an important food source. This time honored process of cheese making is still used today.

There are three main types of Grana Padano, ranging in age from 9-12 months, 12-20 months and 20 months onwards. The colour ranges from white to dark straw yellow as the cheese ages. The tiny white spots you see in the cheese – that gritty taste, is from calcium crystals. This cheese gets grainier and more pungent with age, and easily breaks into small chunks.

Spinach balls with Grana Padano

When I returned home from Italy, I started looking for Grana Padano cheese. I did find the younger version of the cheese at the local supermarket, and found the 16-20 month aged cheese at Trader Joe’s. I decided to make these spinach balls from the Grana Padano website. The recipe contains spinach, chickpeas, bread crumbs and cheese. It tasted quite good, and if I make this again, I’d include a tomato sauce. The older versions of this cheese are tasty on a cheese board, perhaps with some honey.

Let me know what you think if you get the opportunity to taste it!

Grana Padano Aged 9-16 months Aged 16-20 months Aged over 20 months
Appearance Pale yellow Soft straw White dots (calcium lactate crystals) appear Dark straw yellow Clear flaky structure Crumbly
Mild, milky, sweet, and delicate Slightly tangy, less sweet – dried fruit and hay Less sweet, stronger, and more savoury with crunchy texture. Triangular flake structure from the lactate calcium crystals.
Uses Appetizer, over salads, or carpaccio Cheese board Use for grating, omelettes, vegetable and meat recipes Grated, Cheese board
Wine Pairing Pair with a rounded acidic wine, low in tannins, fruity – Laguna DOC, Laguna DOC Spumante, Pinot Grigio Pair with slightly tannic red with medium intensity – Marzemino, Pinot Noir or Chiaretto, Lugana DOC Superiore Pair with a full bodied complex wine, mouth filling – Laguna DOC Vendemmia Tardiva (late harvest), Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Amarone