Grana Padano Vs Parmesan – What’s The Difference?
Grana Padano and Parmesan are remarkably similar but have a few key differences that make them very unique.
Both kinds of cheese offer a great flavor and are considered to be one of the most popular varieties in the world. But when it comes to choosing one, which one is better and what are their differences?
So, what’s the difference between Grana Padano and parmesan? Grana Padano is a less mature cheese than parmesan. Both offer similar flavor notes but with a few subtle differences. Parmesan is more balanced, creamier, and milkier than Grana Padano which has a slightly sweet and milky flavor.
Read below to learn the differences between both these kinds of cheese, how they are made, which one is better, and in what situation!
Grana Padano – Origins
Grana Padano was invented in a plain valley called Pianura Padana, Italy. Legend has it that it was created by monastery monks as a means to extend the shelf life of milk.
This cheese is famous for its milky, creamy texture and sweet flavor. While it is less mature compared to other types of cheese, it still packs a whole lot of flavors and can easily be mistaken for the more aged varieties.
On average, a typical wheel of Grana Padano must be aged for at least 9 months before it is inspected and stamped for sale.
This cheese was perfected through generations of cheese making and recipe tweaks.
Today, Grana Padano stands firm among the other cheese giants as a standalone contender and is even a very viable alternative to other mature cheeses, like parmesan, as well!
How It’s Made
Grana Padano is made using typical cheese-making processes. However, it gets its differences from three things: cows, milk, and the aging/production process.
Making Grana Padano has more to do with what the cows eat than the cows themselves!
Generally, this cheese is known to be a bit creamy and milky but at the same time, it has earthy flavor notes that are accentuated due to the all-natural and ferment-free feed that the cows consume.
The milk that these cows produce is highly scrutinized by expert cheesemakers before it is sent for further production!
There are two types of milk used to make this cheese. Each is produced at different times and added together to make Grana Padano.
One is prepared the night before and the other is taken fresh (both are skimmed).
Grana Padano uses skimmed milk instead of whole fat milk as this allows the cheese to be just creamy enough to have a firm and slightly grainy texture without it being too much like other types of hard cheeses.
Both types of milk, enzymes, and a bit of whey are added to jumpstart the cheese production process. Manufacturers may also add other ingredients depending on the variety and type of Grana Padano too.
Aging And Production Process
Finally, the final step that sets this cheese apart from the others is related to how long it is aged.
Hard cheeses are usually aged for about a year, this allows them to develop flavors and gives time for the enzymes to do their work.
Grana Padano can be either 9 months, 16 months, or even over 20 months old.
The older the cheese, the grainier and crumblier it will be. The cheese will also develop a significantly different flavor profile as Grana Padano is known to become salty and intense as it ages!
The best time to consume Grana Padano is when it is 9 to 16-month-old. This is when the flavor of the cheese will vary from being sweet and creamy to earthy and buttery.
Once the cheese has aged, it will be tested by experts and then stamped with a “POD” (Protected Origin Denomination) sign that proves that this cheese is authentic, pure, and safe to eat.
Uses of Grana Padano
Grana Padano is used just like any other cheese and can pair extremely well with bread, fruits, vegetables, wine, and more. It is commonly used in sandwiches and can also be melted or added to savory food and salads.
The best temperature to consume Grana Padano is at room temperature as this cheese may have a slightly different texture and flavor depending on how warm or cold it is.
Many people also like to use Grana Padano instead of parmesan for several reasons. Since both of these cheeses are so similar, you can easily use either in a range of recipes.
We’ll discuss more on this below. First, let’s talk about the world-famous Parmesan cheese!
Parmesan – Origins
The origin of parmesan is said to be older than Grana Padano.
Invented in the Middle Ages, parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano was also similarly created by monastery monks—clearly, monks have a liking for cheese!
Seeking to extend the shelf-life of milk and to increase rations, Parmigiano Reggiano was created to cater to the dietary needs of the people living in the valley of Parma and Reggio Emilia.
Over the centuries, the original recipe and process of parmesan were carefully tweaked to what is now commonly found in stores today.
Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the best-known and widely produced cheeses in the world. It is renowned for its hard, grainy texture and for its understated yet revered complex flavor.
How It’s Made
Parmesan is made using similar cheesemaking processes, like Grana Padano but is different in two ways: the milk and the aging/production process.
Parmigiano Reggiano is also made using two types of milk but in this case, it is made using a mixture of skimmed and whole fat milk, thus giving parmesan its signature creamy and buttery texture and flavor.
Both varieties of milk are mixed and then dumped into a large container.
It is estimated that at least half a ton of milk goes into making a large block of cheese! This is partially why hard cheese can be so costly!
Once the milk is treated with rennet, heated, and the solids are separated from the whey, the cheese curds are collected from the bottom of the container and are drained of the excess whey.
Aging And Production
Once fully drained, the cheese curds are then put into molds. Each wheel will spend around three days in the mold before it is moved into a container with saltwater.
This process is crucial as it enhances the flavor and scent of the cheese.
The wheels will spend several months submerged in saltwater until they are ready to be taken out for the aging process.
Now, this is where Parmigiano Reggiano will differ from Grana Padano the most.
On average, each wheel of Parmesan will age for about 12-36 months before it is deemed “ready” by a master cheesemaker. Again, the older the cheese, the more complex and intense its flavor will be!
In the case of parmesan, the cheese will develop a very crumbly and grainy texture along with a pronounced buttery and intense flavor after about three years.
Uses Of Parmesan
Parmigiano Reggiano is famously used in pasta recipes.
Its thick creamy consistency and almost sharp, cheesy, and buttery flavor pair extremely well with carb-laden food. This is why parmesan is the default cheese of choice when it comes to every type of pasta dish in existence!
Similarly, parmesan can also be paired with bread, wine, fruits, and vegetables. It is commonly used in sandwiches, salads, and as a side for meat or other savory dishes too.
Perhaps the best use of parmesan is when it is melted and used as either a topping or a garnish in various dishes!
Comparison Of Parmesan And Grana Padano
You might be thinking that both these kinds of cheese have a lot of similarities – and you would be right!
Both Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano have a similar origin story and are made using almost the same process.
However, the main difference between both types of cheese lies in their texture, flavor, and consequently, their age!
Here’s a quick comparison between the two:
|Type of Cheese||Hard Cheese||Hard Cheese|
|Best Served At||68–72 °F||68–72 °F|
|Flavor (Less Mature)||Balanced creamy, buttery, cheesy, and earthy flavor.||Slightly sweet, earthy, and buttery flavor.|
|Flavor (Mature)||Intense Cheesy and Striking flavor.||Salty and intense flavor.|
|Aroma Notes||Fresh fruit and yogurt.||Milk and cream flavor notes.|
|Best Used in||Pasta, salads, sandwiches, etc.||Salads, bread, savory food, sandwiches, etc.|
|Best Used As||Topping or grated over food.||Cooked with food.|
|Aged For||At least 12-36 months.||At least 9-20 months.|
|Texture||Hard and granular.||Firm.|
Of course, with so many similarities and a few key differences, the most common question that comes to peoples’ minds when talking about these two types of cheese is if they can be substituted with one another.
The short answer is, yes! They can easily be substituted with each other provided that they are used correctly.
For example, aged parmesan cheese, when used in cooking will provide a very intense flavor compared to a less mature block of Grana Padano.
Similarly, if you want to use grated Grana Padano as a topping, then it may not be able to provide the same texture as parmesan.
However, when used in smaller quantities and with less mature varieties, both types of cheese may be indistinguishable in flavor.
While connoisseurs will be able to pick up on the differences on the first bite, if you are planning to impress a casual foodie then you might be able to get away with using either one in several recipes!
How To Store Grana Padano And Parmesan
Both types of cheese are considered to be “hard” cheeses. Meaning that they have been specifically developed and aged to have less moisture.
Since both kinds of cheese require about a year to mature, they are usually kept in a temperature-controlled environment where they are either mechanically or manually flipped and turned around to prevent fungal growth.
Once appropriately aged, both kinds of cheese are inspected by experts before they are branded and deemed worthy for commercial sale.
When the cheese arrives at the store, it is similarly kept in a temperature-controlled environment that is cooler than the temperature the cheese was aged in.
This is done to protect the cheese from bacterial growth, to increase its shelf life, and also to prevent the cheese from undergoing further flavor changes.
This is why it is highly recommended that you keep the cheese refrigerated or frozen.
The best way to enjoy either cheese is to first store it in the fridge if you wish to consume it within 3-4 days and then serve it at room temperature by allowing it to sit outside the fridge for no more than 1 hour.
Leftovers must be moved to the freezer. Make sure that you use an airtight container or an airtight freezer bag to store the cheese (we’d recommend these containers).
This will keep it from going bad and prevent it from developing changes in its scent and flavor too.
Both types of cheeses should be kept refrigerated or frozen for the entirety of their storage duration.
Also, while frozen cheese can be good for a long, long time, it is ideally best to consume it within 2-3 months for the best flavor and texture.
Sure, you can stretch the storage time to about a year or more but think about it practically: the cheese will likely experience temperature differences as you take it out to thaw and then freeze it again throughout its storage duration.
This will slowly but surely cause the cheese to undergo chemical changes that may render it unsafe to eat after 3-4 months of repeated thawing and refreezing.
Remember, just because hard cheese is aged for up to three years doesn’t make it impervious to spoilage!
Always check the label for storage instructions and be mindful of the expiration or best before date.
Visually inspect the cheese before consumption, especially after its initial storage time, and toss the entire block if you notice any fungal growth or signs of spoilage.
Parmesan and Grana Padano are hard cheeses that share a lot of similarities but also have enough differences to stand out as unique in their own right.
Now that you know all about both types of cheeses, here are a few related questions!
Can you age cheese at home?
Only expert cheesemakers have the skill set required to safely age cheese over 2-3 years.
While it is possible to age cheese using a temperature-controlled environment, we would advise you against it, simply because there is so much that can go wrong!
Cheesemakers use various visual, flavor, and tactile cues along with years of experience to determine the quality of the cheese as it ages.
Unless you are a certified expert, you should never try to age cheese at home.
Is parmesan more expensive than Grana Padano?
Yes, despite both types of cheeses being widely produced, parmesan tends to be more expensive due to its aging and production process.
Grana Padano tends to be the more affordable option of the two and since both kinds are similar, they make for excellent substitutes too!
What type of cheese can be consumed on its own?
Both types of cheese can be consumed on their own at room temperatures; however, parmesan is known to be the better option when it comes to standalone tasting.
Grana Padano has lots of culinary uses and is usually cooked with food, which adds flavor to both the cheese and the dish.
When it comes to pairings, both types of cheese can be paired with more or less the same ingredients and can be enjoyed outside of complex culinary dishes – like crackers or simple focaccia bread.
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