For some reason, I've always — for years — overlooked Grana Padano. I regarded it as a pedestrian, somewhat boring cheese. And maybe it's because I likened it to a lesser version of Parmigiano Reggiano, which is a cheese that I've always felt gets too much attention, anyway.
I've been just about as wrong as a cheesemonger can be.I have been bashed for saying it before: I just don't get what the big hooplah is about Parmigiano Reggiano. For cooking, it's great, and it serves a salty, cheesy purpose, but plain, I find it unsatisfying, and more often than not, bitter at the finish. And it's expensive, too. Since there are certainly incredibly worthy alternatives out there, I typically forgo it if I'm the one buying.
But I was sent a sample of Grana Padano the other week. And so I tasted it. And then I ate it. (There's a difference.) So wrong was I! I hate that, I really do.
The stats: Grana Padano is one of the oldest cheeses in the world, and for nearly 1,000 years, it's been made in the same manner. The first versions were made by Cistercian monks, in Italy's Valle Padana, from the excess milk from their herds. It's still made throughout the Po Valley, which stretches from Piedmont to the Veneto, and slightly north and slightly south, into Trentino and Emilia-Romagna. Since 1955, it's been a name-protected (PDO) cheese, which means that everything involving the cheese's production — from the cows' diet, to how often the cows are milked (twice maximum per day), to the aging methods and duration (at least 9 months and upwards of 20 months), and the ultimate flavor profile — is regulated and ensured by a consortium dedicated solely to upholding the quality of the cheese.
And you taste it, this quality, you really do. Grana Padano is sweet, in a fruity kind of way, nearly tropical. But it's balanced by a great, savory toastiness, like a lightly roasted nut. And best of all, it's not dry or unpleasantly crumbly, which I always find can turn me off to this style of cheese. It's full of those crystalline crunchy bits, too. Texturally, I've got no complaints.
And as a table or snacking cheese, Grana Padano has others beat. In fact, each bite only reinforced how wrong I'd been that it's a cheese meant for cooking and cooking only. However, if you are interested in recipes using Grana Padano, the Consortium for Grana Padano offers plenty, from starters to dessert.
If given the choice, I'll now pick Grana Padano over parm, as most Italians do. (Supposedly it's the most-consumed cheese in all of Italy.) Sadly, though, I don't see Grana Padano as much as I see its more celebrated relative. I do see it in Little Italy's famous food stores in New York, like Di Palo and Alleva Dairy, for around $13.99/lb, or a dollar more per pound if you choose a more aged variety. It's often, too, at larger grocery stores and fine cheese shops. Since it costs on average $5 less per pound than Parmigiano Reggiano, which runs around $18.99/lb, there's even more reason to seek it out. Spend what you're saving on buying more Grana Padano. To eat.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Image: Grana Padano Consortium, used with permission.)