Grana padano and Parmigiano reggiano
Of course each different cheese has its conoisseurs, but in daily cooking formaggio (Italian for ‘cheese’) boils down to a handful of basic types. The king of them all, the one you grate on a just-served pasta dish and which is used in countless recipes, is however the Grana padano.
“Grana”, as it is commonly called, is a hard cheese made with partially skimmed milk and cured for 9 to 12 months before being tested for quality and fire-branded with an official trade mark. The first part of the name comes from the grainy texture, while the second indicates its geographical origin from the vast plain where the Po river flows, in northern Italy. This cheese is traditionally shaped into large (18” by 15”) wheels weighing 53 to 88 lbs. An unopened wheel lasts for a very long time, and in fact the flavor of Grana evolves according to how long it has been left ripening in special-made vaults where it is frequently turned over to ensure the uniformity of taste and texture throughout the wheel. Basic Grana padano, the less expensive and relatively soft type, has a “up to 16 months” ripening certification; selected wheels are 16 to 20 months, and Grana padano Riserva (the crumbliest, most flavored and expensive type) is over 20 months old. The slightly oily rind is chewy and edible, and it is often considered a special delicacy. Its nutrient quality is especially hearty, as 100 grams provide 384 calories and a full set of proteins and aminoacids. In fact it is considered an excellent source of easily digestible energy, and for this it is commonly included in the diet of Italian national and Olympics sport teams.
What really tastes different and notably even better is the rarely produced Parmigiano from Reggiana Rossa cattle instead of the most common Holstein Friesian cow. This is a disappearing type of cattle because it produces less milk than other varieties, but the cheeses made with its milk are noticeably tastier. Another thing that really doesn’t taste like Grana or Parmigiano at all is “Parmesan”, the knockoff cheese sold in supermarkets worldwide. One taste of real Italian cheese – possibly garnished with a drop of real balsamic vinegar – will clear that up for you in an instant.