In Europe up until 5-6 years ago Grand Padano Cheese was called and considered a type of Parmesan cheese. Then EC laws made it illegal to call it Parmesan Cheese (in Europe) unless it was produced within the recognised Parmesan area.
This new law intended to protect Parmesan had another effect which was to raise the price considerably over night. The then price shot from £13 a kilo up to £17.50 a kilo. It also left producers of Grand Padano with an identity crisis, even though it's proud 1000 year history pre-dates the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano by at least 200 hundred years. Outside of catering circles most people know of Parmesan but not Grand Padano. Some companies repackage it as Hard Italian cheese but that went down like a lead balloon.
It is produced mainly in Lombardy - the name Padano derives from the Pianura Padana. Cows can also be fed silage, not grass and hay only. The milk contains slightly less fat. Milk of several days can be used and it is aged for up to 20 months and has a sligtly sweeter taste.
Slowly Grand Padano has found a niche for itself though Iím sure most shoppers are still unaware of it. At £3-£5 a kilo cheaper I am often explaining to audiences that here is an excellent alternative to Parmesan. Just like Parmesan it has distinctive, salty, slightly granular cheese. Very similar in taste you would have be a cheese expert to tell the difference.
In most of Europe, Parmesan cheese is referred to by its Italian name: Parmigiano-Reggiano, a reference to the regions in which the cheese is produced. To bear the Parmigiano label, Parmesan cheese must be made from cow's milk between May and November in Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia, or parts of Bologna and Mantova. The cheese is traditionally made by mixing whole morning milk with skimmed milk from the previous evening. The milk is heated and mixed with rennet to form curds, which are pressed in a cheese mold. True Parmesan cheese is molded with a stencil, indicating where and when it was made. The cheese is soaked in a brine bath and then aged for a minimum of two years before being graded for sale. If you wish for a more intense flavour you can buy parmesan cheese that is matured for 3 years which is called Stravecchio or stravecchiones, which has been matured for 4 years.
So if you shopping to make dinner and you wince when seeing the price of Parmesan Cheese you can now consider Grand Padano.
Parmesan type cheese is also made in the USA but has a smaller granular size due the curds being cut much finer. This makes for a smoother cheese and also allows the cheese to mature faster (between 10-14 months) because the smaller curds drain more effectively. American Parmesan is also mechanically pressed in order to expel excess moisture. Although Iím not totally up on US prices I believe America Parmesan is about £11 a kilo ($16 a kilo).
A NO NO
For goodness sake please promise me if anyone you know and love picks up a tube of pre-grated Parmesan Cheese, you must knock it out of their hand. You see all of the grated Parmesan Cheese sold in tubes have a nasty cocktail of chemical agents and even breadcrumbs. Whilst living in the States I often found people that hated Parmesan Cheese because they had only ever tasted the ďfakeĒ stuff in the green tubes.
Donít Throwaway Your Crusts
The hard crusts of Padano and Parmesan cheese will live quite happily in your fridge for weeks (just wrap them in parchment paper not cling film). The hard crust of the cheese is just that cheese so get some use out of it. I like to simmer it with heavy cream to make cheese flavoured sauces. It wonít melt totally so just remove before using the sauce. Iíve also use it in risotto (during the cooking process), flavoured mashed potatoes or even polenta with it.