Grated over pasta, sliced in salads, or eaten on its own. Find out how to buy, store, and enjoy Grana Padano cheese.
Here’s a question for you: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say hard Italian cheese?
Okay, okay, you’re right… Let me ask you another question. What’s the next thing that comes to mind after the uncle jokes and the giggling? See, I’m willing to bet it’s parmesan, a.k.a. Parmigiano-Reggiano, cheese.
But if you’re looking for a hard Italian cheese that tastes somewhat similar to parmesan and costs a little less per pound to buy, you should really think of Grana Padano.
What Is Grana Padano?
Grana Padano is a hard Italian cheese made from cow’s milk and aged for a minimum of 9 months. It originates from the provinces along the Po river valley, and its production is regulated by the Grana Padano Consortium.
It’s made from cow’s milk, calf’s rennet, and salt. Some Grana Padano cheeses, but not all, can also contain lysozyme—an enzyme extracted from hen egg whites that keeps the growth of unwanted fermentation bacteria at bay.
Grana Padano is rich and salty, but also sweet and nutty. The longer it ages, the more moisture it loses, which makes it drier and crumblier. Young Grana Padano is hard and waxy; more mature Grana Padano is crumbly and granular.
You can enjoy it on its own, with fresh fruit and wine as a snack, or sliced on a cheese and meat platter. You can also grate it over pasta dishes, slice it into salads, and add it to burgers and sandwiches (knowing that Grana Padano isn’t a great melter).
How Is Grana Padano Made?
The Grana Padano Consortium explains on its website that Grana Padano is made using the following process:
Unpasterurized cow’s milk is sourced from local farms in five provinces along Italy’s Po river. The milk is partially skimmed, then poured into huge, 1,000-liter copper vats. The leftover whey from yesterday’s yield is added, and the lactic acid in the whey causes the milk to curdle.
To help the curdling, the milk is heated, and calf’s rennet—an enzyme that separates milk’s liquids from the solids—is added to the vat. As curdles form in the milk, it’s heated some more, and the curdles are broken up with a giant whisk. Then the solids are lifted and rested, allowing them to drain from the water.
The cheese is shaped into wheels, and the wheels are dipped in a salt water brine for 14 to 30 days. Then, they are dried and aged for a minimum of 9 months before being inspected for quality by a master cheese grader from the consortium.
Storing Grana Padano
To store Grana Padano cheese in your home, wrap it loosely in cheese paper, wax paper, or aluminum foil. This will allow the cheese to breathe and keep it fresh for as long as possible. Avoid using airtight containers—these can trap moisture and encourage mold growth, causing the cheese to spoil.
As with any other low-moisture cheese, Grana Padano can be left out at room temperature for a few hours without going bad. However, if you want to maximize its shelf life and preserve its best quality, you should really keep it in the fridge. If you leave the cheese out for too long, it may sweat and dehydrate.
You can also freeze Grana Padano cheese for prolonged storage. But know that freezing the cheese will change its texture, making it slightly crumbly and leaving it less flavorful. If you do decide to freeze the cheese, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.
Grana Padano Substitutes
Can’t get a hold of Grana Padano? It isn’t carried by every grocery store. Or do you want to swap it out for something else that you already have in your fridge? We’ve got you covered.
Some of the best substitutes for Grana Padano cheese are Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and Aged Asiago. These cheeses are similar to Grana Padano in both flavor and texture, and can be used almost interchangeably in most recipes.
If you’re looking for better melters than Grana Padano, Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, and Gouda cheese are also some great options, although it must be noted that they have a slightly different flavor profile and may not be as suitable for all dishes.
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