sábado, 24 de mayo de 2014

The history of Grana Padano cheese

Marking the Grana Padano
When you think about Italian hard cheeses, you probably will think about what Italian calls the King of Cheeses, the Parmigiano Reggiano. But beside this kind of cheese exists also another cheese: the Grana Padano.

It a gastronomical product protected by the quality label DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) and it is very typical of northern Italian regions like Lombardy but also Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont, Veneto, Trentino - Alto Adige. The differences between the Grana and the Parmigiano are mainly that the first is usually lightier than the latter, that has more fats.
The Parmigiano Reggiano also have a longer period of ripening.

Parmigiano Reggiano ripening

Furthermore, the Grana appears to be more compact and dense, while the Parmigiano, because of the longer ripening period, is dryer and looks somewhat more flaky. Its history is quite ancient and there are lots of different versions of the origins of this delicious cheese.
Let's start! After the Year 1000, which everyone feared would be the the last one, there was a huge monastical renaissance all over Europe. Those monasteries lived of farming and developed a superior knowledge in the cultivation of lands. They were also capable of reclaim the swamp lands in the Pianura Padana, the alluvional plain in northern Italy. In every corner of the northern part of the country so moks patiently worked decade after decade to make of this plain a rich agricultural land. And, as everyone can see nowadays, they succeed! With the innovative technique of the marcite, they succeed in controlling the excess of water in the plain, allowing the farmers to obtain a surplus of corn to feed the cows they breeded. This lead to an excess of milk, and this posed a problem: how can they conserve it properly? They decided to create a cheese to conserve it easily.

The Grana Padano
According to some, the first Grana cheese would have been the Lodigiano, also said the Granone. The Lodigiano, that takes its name from the medieval city of Lodi, some 30 km south east of Milan, was a peculiar cheese, with a spicy flavour and light blue veins running through it. A sort of tear used to drop from it when it was cut. Unluckily, the production of this ancient cheese stopped in the 1970s, and only after the 2000s the production was restarted. This new Granone, even if it may be different from the ancient one (we cannot compare them) is anyway very, very good!

The Granone cheese, also called Lodigiano

The "Ciribiciaccola" belfry, symbol of Chiaravalle
As for the Grana Padano, we know the full history pretty well and in details. It was born in Milan, in the (gorgeous) gothic abbey of Chiaravalle, just few kilometers away from the bustling city center. In the shadows of the "Ciribiciaccola", the nickname that the inhabitants of Chiaravalle uses to describe the tall belfry, the monks decided to use the excess of milk in a long ripening hard cheese, cooked in the boiler of the abbey. We have also a year of birth, the 1135, that makes of the Grana Padano one of the oldest cheese still in production. Monks called it Caseus Vetus, in latin, a language that many farmers did not know. They used instead the word Grana for it, because of its dense yet granulous texture. Beside the Grana of Lodi, that we've already mentioned previously, and the Milanese, or Grana Padano, also another Grana had a great success: the Grana cheese from the city of Parma, or Parmigiano. We'll talk of this extraordinary excellence of italian gastronomy in another occasion, in this post we'll just add that in the XII century the Grana cheese reached the Emilia Romagna region and there the technique was developed further, with the creation of the Parmigiano Reggiano. But unlikely the most famous son, the Grana Padano remained a local cheese until recent years. It was only after the II World War, in 1951, that in a meeting in the city of Stresa, on the Lago Maggiore, cheese expert from all Europe established the differences and the peculiarity that divided the Grana Padano and the Parmigiano Reggiano, or the Grana Lodigiano, as it was called in that occasion. The first normatives were established in 1955, and they led the international recognozability of the Grana Padano cheese. In 1996, the Grana also obtained the DOP label by the EU.
The texture of Grana is softer and less granulous that the Parmigiano, and makes it ideal as an appetizer or antipasto. If you want it as an aperitivo, eat it with bubbles! We would suggest you to drink a Prosecco sparkling wine with the Grana Padano. Another way of eating it is the so called "raspadura", very typical of Lodi, but also in Pavia or Cremona. Just scrape off the upper part of your Grana with a particular knife, and you'll obtain a thin layer of Grana Padano, so delicate and tasty. This would be impossible to obtain with a Parmigiano Reggiano.

It is impressive to think that you need 15 liters of milk to obtain just a kilogram of Grana Padano cheese, and every wheel of Grana weights from 24 to 40 kgs!
The Grana Padano must be left ripening from 9 to 20 months.
Well, that's it! Next step is to go out finding your wheel of Grana Padano DOP (always choose the original, do not trust Parmesan or so, they're just low quality tacky imitations!)
Eat it as you want, grated on your spaghetti (we always suggest the pasta from Gragnano), in little cubes or in the traditional raspadura way!

The raspadura from Grana Padano

Enjoy your life, enjoy it with cheeses!


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