Let’s discover the similarities and differences between Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano!
Italy’s best-loved and world-famous cheeses. Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano are two of the most widely used cheeses in Italian recipes besides Mozzarella. It is no coincidence that both are almost always in the fridge at home, thanks to their versatility and the different taste that makes them unique and suitable for every palate. Very often they are naively confused, especially by foreign consumers unaccustomed to the daily use of these cheeses, which in themselves have characteristics in common.
In addition to being among the most widely sold Italian cheeses in the world (Grana cheese holds the podium position), they are among the most imitated. It is not difficult to come across an American product that indicates the wording “Parmesan cheese” in a totally inappropriate way. Coldiretti association confirms that, in addition to Fontina and Mozzarella di Bufala, Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano are among the most counterfeited cheeses in the world.
Researchers at the Catholic University of Piacenza have developed a system for recognising fake products on the basis of metabolomic analysis, which can distinguish the original product from the counterfeit one. Beyond counterfeiting, the Italian cheese industry is a vast field of production that leaves room for small and large companies. Matured cheeses are a must and many brands are betting on them, such as Biraghi, which produces a mature cheese with similar flavours to the two PDOs.
To raise awareness of its excellence, Parmigiano Reggiano was made the star of a medium-length film directed by Paolo Genovese, starring actor Stefano Fresi and multi-starred chef Massimo Bottura. From the film, 6 extracts were used as commercials broadcast on national TV. On the other hand, the Grana Padano commercials evoke “the good in us“, emphasising the strong link between food and who we are.
Symbols of national identity, these two Italian cheeses are rich in differences and peculiarities. Let’s discover them together…
Similarities between Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano
THE MONKS, ANCIENT CHEESEMAKERS
The two cheeses share a common history where the skill of the Benedictine monks is responsible for their destiny. Who was born first? Grana Padano, called “caseus vetus” in ancient times, originated in the abbey of Chiaravalle in 1135 and took its name from its characteristic graininess. There is instead evidence of Parmigiano Reggiano in documents dating back to 1200, referring to the production of a “caseus parmensis“, produced in the Parma area by the Cistercian and Benedictine monks who settled there. The maturing process, a technique already known to the French of Cluny, allowed for a long-lasting preservation of the cheese and a wise use of surplus milk.
CHEESE-MAKING SPECIFICATIONS AND TRADITION
Today, both cheeses bear the Protected Designation of Origin and are respectively protected by the “Consorzio Tutela del Parmigiano Reggiano DOP” and the “Consorzio del Grana Padano DOP“.
They are both finely-grained cheeses with a flaky texture, and this unites their uses. The milk, which comes from cows milked twice a day and partially de-milked by natural creaming, provides nutritional characteristics that go hand in hand in both productions. They are rich in minerals, calcium and vitamins of the A and B group, and they have a cholesterol content of around 80 mg per 100 g portion.
Intrinsic characteristics aside, shape and weight are also very similar.
Certain stages of the manufacturing process run parallel, such as the use of exclusive calf rennet, the tools used and the general outlines of the characteristic production process (which are, however, delineated by strict production specifications). Maturation is common to both productions but takes place at different times. In any case, it makes cheeses that are edible even by those who are lactose intolerant. In fact, the lactose content of Parmigiano Reggiano is less than 0.01% and Grana Padano is also naturally lactose-free.
Difference between Grana Padano & Parmigiano Reggiano
EVERYONE AGES IN THEIR OWN WAY
Starting with the maturing process, Parmigiano is not branded before 12 months – up to 18 months it is considered young. From 18 to 24 months it is mature, from 24 to 30 months it is old and over 30 months it is extra-mature. Grana Padano is branded as early as 9 months and up to 16 months is referred to as Grana Padano PDO. After 16 months, we speak of Grana Padano “Oltre” and from 30 months onwards we have Grana Padano Riserva.
The production area is also different. Grana Padano is produced in Veneto, Lombardy and partly in Piedmont, Trentino Alto Adige and Emilia Romagna, while Parmigiano Reggiano is only produced in Emilia Romagna. This can have an impact on the final costs that make Grana Padano less expensive than Parmigiano (but not qualitatively less appreciable).
THE PARTICULARITIES THAT MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
Even the feeding of the cows marks one of the main differences between the two cheeses. In general, the cows are fed with green fodder and feed, but in the case of Grana Padano, silage is also permitted. This is a preserved fodder which is, however, forbidden for the Trentingrana type. The Parmigiano Reggiano specification also does not allow the use of this type of fodder which, by exploiting anaerobic microorganisms, could cause the wheels to swell. This problem could be kept at bay by the use of lysozyme, a catalytic enzyme that acts against microorganisms (a technique used for Grana Padano) but tradition dictates that no additives of any kind are added to Parmigiano Reggiano.
From a technological point of view, other differences can be found in the coagulation and cooking temperature, the breaking of the curd, the resting time and the duration of salting. The latter goes up to 30 days for Grana, while it stops at 25 for Parmigiano.
The difference in taste between the two is indisputable: the delicate flavour of Grana Padano is revealed in the melting texture on tasting. On the other hand, the straw-yellow paste of Parmigiano Reggiano has got a savoury aroma reminiscent of milk. Thanks to the presence of glutamate, both release an umami taste in the mouth that visually translates into a steaming plate of tortellini in broth with a sprinkling of grated cheese!
Versatility in the kitchen
Always allied to pasta, sauces and risottos, Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano express the essence of good cooking. There is no meatball that does not recall their presence (excluding fish-based ones). They are two excellent table cheeses, ideal as an aperitif to pair with cured meats or vegetables for a vegetarian version. They also act as true main courses – just think of the Parmigiano Reggiano fondue!
They add flavour to vegetable soups, are the basis of important traditional pesto sauces such as Pesto Genovese and are essential for perfect risotto stirring!
In the diced version, they are the ideal snack for young and old, inside and especially outside the home. Their high calcium content makes them indispensable in the diet of athletes, women and children.
Pairings with other ingredients vary depending on the degree of seasoning. In general, a winning combination is with fruit, especially pears. Mustards and jams also enhance the flavours of the more mature, not to mention cured meats such as sweet Prosciutto. A few drops of Modena Balsamic Vinegar will dress the simplest salads with Grana cheese, cherry tomatoes, rocket and walnuts. Use in the kitchen also extends to desserts: from Bavarese with Grana Padano and white chocolate to Friulian plum gnocchi with Parmigiano Reggiano.
- IS IT PDO? Both marks are protected by the EU through the Protected Designation of Origin. If there is no PDO mark on the packaging, it is a non-original product.
- How to distinguish them? The branding is present on each cheese wheel and, of course, the characteristic logo is also on the packaging. In order to be able to distinguish them by nose, we should resort a little to olfactory memory and perhaps do some self-training, focusing on the seasoning. Grana has got a pungent, animal smell. Parmigiano recalls the smell of milk and floral notes. On tasting, the salty and spicy notes will be enhanced with longer ripening times, for both cheeses.
- How to store them? Vacuum-packing allows storage in the fridge for up to several months. Once the package has been opened, it is convenient to isolate the cheese in containers so that it does not absorb other odours or to wrap it in food-grade film.
- Where to enjoy them? To taste them in their purest form and discover all the secrets in the processing stages, you can go directly to the large factories in northern Italy. There you will have the opportunity to take a guided tour of the cheese factory. In addition to this, you can visit historical workshops or smaller cheese factories: either way, you will have the opportunity to understand how much manual skill and experience is required to “feel” the cheese with all 5 senses. In addition, you can participate in cheese tasting experiences or tasting courses to better appreciate the wide range of aromas that these products give off.
It is also possible to learn more about the differences between the various types of Parmigiano Reggiano, from the traditional one made from milk of Friesian cows to the more characteristic ones made from milk of native cows such as White Modenese Cow, Red Cows or Alpine Brown. For students, Grana Padano has been implementing since 2015 the project “At cooking school with Grana Padano“, which is joined every year by a large number of hotel schools.
Now that you know the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, all that’s left to do is to move on to the cheese tasting… Enjoy! 🧀