PDO Grana Padano is a low-fat cheese made in a vast area of northern Italy that comprises Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto (except Belluno), the province of Trento and Emilia-Romagna, the Bologna area (to the right of the Reno river), Ferrara, Forlì-Cesena, Piacenza, Ravenna and Rimini.
Made with cow's milk, PDO Grana Padano cheese is characterised by its typical cylindrical shape with a slightly convex side edge known as the ‘scalzo’. A form of cheese, cylindrical from 35 to 45 cm. in diameter, it has a minimum weight of 24 kg.
As it is being made, the milk is skimmed first and then mixed with calf rennet; the curd that comes from this process is then heated to 53°-56°, which is why Grana Padano cheese is referred to as a cooked cheese.
The curd grains are left to rest to allow them to solidify before being set in the moulds where they will stay for at least two days. The wheels are then ready for marking and for a mix of water and salt to be added, followed by a long ripening process: only after at least nine months will PDO Grana Padano cheese be ready to eat.
The idea of cooking the milk for a long time, adding the curd and salting the wheels came from the Cistercian monks from the Chiaravalle abbey (Milan), who began making a new kind of cheese in the year 1135, known as caseus vetus or ‘old cheese’.
The name was chosen to underline how different this new type of cheese was to the cheese that had been eaten up until then, which was soft and perished easily.
Rich in mineral salts and vitamins A, B2 and B12, PDO Grana Padano is a balanced, nutritious cheese that is well-suited to a wide range of flavours. Depending on the degree of ripeness (Grana Padano PDO up to 16 months, Grana Padano over 16 months, Grana Padano RISERVA over 20 months), this cheese can be eaten as a table cheese, or added to pasta dishes, risottos or sprinkled over vegetables cooked au gratin.
Other curious combinations include with preserves and honey, and pairing with wine, sparkling wine and beers.