Grana Padano PDO cheese is an essential taste experience for foodies – and it can be used to create delicious festive recipes.
Every food lover cares about the provenance of ingredients – and Grana Padano boasts more provenance than most other cheeses. This delicious hard Italian cheese has a proud heritage and can trace its history back to 1135, when it was created by Benedictine monks at Chiaravalle Abbey in the Po Valley, south of Milan.
The monks discovered an ingenious way of preserving the surplus milk they produced: by turning it into a cheese that had to be matured to reach its prime. The unique savoury taste of the cheese was an instant hit, and soon it was being produced throughout the Po Valley. The locals called it formaggio di Grana, or grainy cheese, because of its grainy texture.
The Po Valley
Word of this tasty local cheese soon spread and it went on to become popular all over Italy, adopting the name Grana Padano, after the Italian name for the Po Vally: Pianura Padana. Fast-forward to the 1950s and that name was formally recognised within Europe, as the Italian government announced rules to protect the designations of origin of ingredients produced in a particular area.
The European Union recognised the provenance and heritage of Grana Padano in 1996, granting it Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO, status. Since then, the production of Grana Padano has been guaranteed by strict specification rules to ensure its quality.
How it’s made
Grana Padano PDO is a semi-fat hard cheese made from partially-skimmed milk, produced by cows milked only twice daily. It takes 15 litres of milk to produce 1kg of cheese. The milk is heated in large cone-shaped copper-lined cauldrons to produce curd, which is heated, stirred, broken into grain size pieces and then left to settle at the bottom of the cauldron. The cheese-makers then divide this cheese mass into two equal parts, known as twin wheels, each of which is wrapped in a cloth.
Each wheel will be placed in a tightly fitting mould and pressed down with a heavy board. After about 12 hours, a band is inserted between the mould and the cheese, to imprint all the marks of origin on its rind, including a clover symbol, the registry number of the dairy, initials of the province and month and year of production, as well as little dotted lozenges saying Grana and Padano.
Then 24 hours later, the wheel will be placed in a steel mould, where it will acquire its final shape and be ready for salting in brine, for around 14-25 days. After this, it will be dried in a heated room, then aged for nine to over 24 months. During this ageing process, Grana Padano undergoes a series of physical, chemical and microbiological changes that contribute to its final unique taste and texture.
After nine months of ageing, each wheel of Grana Padano is checked for quality and if it passes all the tests, it will be fire-branded, as proof of its provenance and quality.
How it tastes
With a fine grainy structure and distinctive mellow flavour, Grana Padano is produced in three vintages:
The three vintages
Grana Padano PDO, 9-16 months – the mildest and softest type of Grana Padano. Pale yellow in colour, its taste is milky and delicate. At this age, it is perfect for gratins, ideal as an appetiser or used as shavings on vegetables, a fresh salad or beef carpaccio.
Grana Padano PDO, over 16 months – has a grainier texture and slightly stronger flavour. It is a straw-yellow colour and crumbles when cut. It has a tangy taste that makes it ideal for grating over dishes, using in pasta dishes and risottos, or simply enjoying as part of a cheese-board.
Grana Padano Riserva PDO – with over 20 months of ageing, Riserva has a dark, straw-yellow colour, grainy texture and flaky structure. With its richer, fuller taste it can be used in a number of gourmet dishes or as part of a luxury cheese-board with nuts, fruits and chutneys.
These different styles of maturation mean that Grana Padano is a hugely versatile cheese for any occasion. It can be served on its own, cut in chunks, with an aperitif or as part of a cheese-board, as well as being used to create a variety of recipes. It can also be paired with a great variety of wines, from sparkling whites such as Prosecco to full-bodied, tannic reds and even sweet dessert wines.
Why not try making these festive recipes that are perfect for Christmas celebrations...
Anolini in broth
Anolini are stuffed pasta, like tortellini, and are typically served for Christmas lunch in the region of Lombardy, in a rich and tasty broth.
Ingredients (serves four)
For the stew:
1 stalk of celery
2 cloves garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
½ glass red wine
Salt and pepper
For the filling:
200g Grana Padano, over 16 months
Salt and pepper
2 litres beef broth
For the stew:
Cut the vegetables into small pieces and fry in a large saucepan with a little oil.
Add the meat and garlic, and brown the meat well.
Add the red wine and simmer to evaporate the alcohol.
Season with salt and pepper, then cover with plenty of water and simmer on a low heat for around three hours, until the meat is very tender.
For the filling:
Mince the stew very finely and put it in a bowl.
Add the Grana Padano, eggs and breadcrumbs.
Add a little beef broth to give a firm yet moist consistency.
Mix everything well and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
For the pasta:
Put the flour on a pastry board and form a well in the centre.
Add the eggs and a pinch of salt to the well.
Work the mixture first with a fork, then knead with your hands until it forms a smooth, springy, ball of dough.
If you haven’t got a pasta machine, roll out the pasta into thin strips, about 10cm wide.
Place a teaspoon of filling every 2.5cm along one side of each strip.
Fold the long side over to cover the filling and lightly press the dough around each little mound, to make sure all the air comes out.
Cut the anolini into squares with a pastry cutter and arrange them on a tray, lightly dusted with flour.
Heat the broth. When it starts to boil, add the anolini and stir gently.
Simmer for about 10 minutes and serve hot with plenty of grated Grana Padano.
Turkey and pumpkin dumplings with watercress dip
Grana Padano gives these festive dumplings a buttery texture. Serve them with a peppery watercress dip and a glass of prosecco.
Ingredients (Serves four)
For the dumplings: 100g ciabatta bread, crust removed and torn into pieces
500g turkey mince
300g butternut squash, peeled and grated
100g sultanas, soaked overnight then drained
2 eggs, lightly beaten
130g Grana Padano, 9-16 months, grated
5g spring onion tops, finely chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
Fried sage leaves, to garnish
For the watercress dip:
10g Grana Padano Riserva, 24 months, grated
1 tbsp pine kernels
2 tsp salt
100ml extra virgin olive oil
For the dumplings:
Mix the bread pieces with the milk and let them soak for a few minutes until the bread has absorbed all of the liquid.
In a large bowl combine the turkey mince, grated butternut squash, eggs, Grana Padano, chopped onion and soaked bread.
Season well with salt and pepper and mix until well blended.
Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up, then form into small 3cm round patties.
Heat two large frying pans, pour 2 tbsp of oil in each and gently fry the dumplings for about five minutes on each side until well golden and slightly crusted.
For the watercress dip:
Pick the watercress leaves, discarding the tougher stems.
Blanch half of the leaves in boiling water for a few seconds, drain, run under cold water and squeeze dry.
Place in a tall measuring cup with the rest of the watercress leaves, Grana Padano, pine kernels, salt and pepper, and about 50ml of olive oil.
Using a hand held mixer start blending, slowly adding the rest of the oil, until you get a creamy paste.
Serve the dumplings warm, with the watercress dip, garnished with fried sage leaves.
To learn more about Grana Padano, click here