Grasping Grana: to the source of Grana Padano
It’s the aromatic and tasty snowfall Italians pour on almost everyone of their “first courses”, be it a soup, pasta, risotto or polenta. It’s the ingredient of other popular dishes, often served as a second or a main course: meat loaf, meatballs, omelette, suppli… and it’s obviously delicious when tasted alone, or with just a hint of honey: it’s Grana Padano, one of the best cheeses produced in Italy.
Grana omnia divisa est in partes tres
“Grana” is a hypernym used to mean any kind of grana cheese, that is a hard, granular aged cheese. Please note that although it ends by -a, it’s a masculine noun: il grana. If you say la grana (with the female article), you say “grain” or “money”, a not-so-common colloquial expression.
There are mainly three kinds of grana cheese produced in Italy (and speaking of which: yes, we do know that “omnia divisa” follows the Latin female declination, and that there’s no consistency with the masculine gender of “grana”, but it best represents Julius Caesar’s expression), and they are Trentin Grana, Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano.
They basically are all made according to the same “recipe” - with slight differences among one another - that is: high-quality fresh milk, rennet and time. And the cheese maker’s experience, of course.
It’s hard to say which one is Italians’ favorite: Parmigiano Reggiano is probably the most renowned, while Grana Padano is likely the most popular and diffused; Trentin Grana also has its fans, but it's less consumed outside of its area of origin.
How – and where - Grana Padano is made.
According to its production guidelines, Grana Padano can be produced almost all along the course of river Po, and namely in the provinces of:
- Turin, Novara, Vercelli, Biella, Verbania, Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria, in Piedmont;
- Pavia, Varese, Como, Lecco, Milan, Lodi, Monza e Brianza, Sondrio, Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona and Mantua (to the left of river Po), in Lombardy;
- Piacenza (Plaisance), Bologna (to the right of river Reno) Ferrara, Forlì-Cesena, Rimini and Ravenna, in Emilia-Romagna;
- Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Treviso, Venice and Rovigo, in the Veneto;
- Trento, in Trentino-Alto Adige.
It means that cows from which the milk used to produce this cheese will be milked have to be bred in these provinces only, and that each step of production, including ripening, has to take place within their boundaries. Actually, milk can also come from cows bred in a few municipality of Alto Adige, but production must take place in the provinces above.
Milk is partially skimmed by letting a part of it rest to allow cream to surface and be removed, then it’s heated in traditional copper, bell-shaped kettles and serum and rennet are added. The curd is cooked and then left resting, to let it become compact and clean all the serum out. Then, it’s wrapped in a light canvas and split in two moulds.
Once the fresh cheese has taken its form, it can be handled and branded by wrapping around it plastic bands, which will leave marks on its surface, but it’s not ready for aging yet, as it still must be brined for a couple of weeks.
Then, it can finally be left resting for months.
Imagine an idyllic countryside to the south-east of Garda Lake, between Sirmione - homeland of Latin poet Catullo - and Verona: wouldn’t you choose such a place to rest and let all your potential develop?
Sommacampagna is a small (though interesting) municipality in the province of Verona, where a cooperative company committed to ripening, distribution and diffusion of local cheeses was established 35 years ago: Agriform.
Since 1980, this company has promoted local genuine dairy products all over the world, by specializing in ageing and marketing cheeses - especially Grana Padano –, thus giving a remarkable contribution to their popularity in Italy and overseas.
Nowadays, Agriform is a large company that still aims to market top-quality dairy products, thanks to strict quality standards, modern equipments and frequent controls during the aging period.