Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano – particular aspects and specifications

Particular aspects and specifications

Most consumers know the two Italian classic cheeses Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Many people also know that both these cheese are classified as “Denominazione di Origine Protetta”, i.e. Protected Designation of Origin, and also know what this means in terms of product characteristics compared with similar but generic products.
Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano possess a series of characteristics in common, but there is also a series of elements that differentiate and clearly distinguish them, to the point where both cheeses have obtained protected designations of origin and type, firstly at Italian level and later at European level, with Protected Designation of Origin certification.
So, it is legitimate, and indeed natural, to be curious about exactly what is the distinction between the two cheeses, in appearance so similar and in reality so different as to be awarded two separate PDO//DOP identities.
There are many occasions on which the main characteristics of these two cheeses get compared.
However, all too often, and with increasingly frequency, there are various comparisons in circulation which attribute to Grana Padano DOP a series of inaccurate characteristics that have nothing to do with the regulations governing its production… And so we feel that we should finally clearly explain the real similarities and differences between Grana Padano DOP and Parmigiano Reggiano DOP.

The basic characteristics that both cheeses share:

  • Historical and geographical origins: the origins of both cheeses stretch back over the centuries to nearly a thousand years ago. The area of origin for both is the Po Valley.
    Grana Padano’s origins can be traced back to 1135, and the ingenuity of the Benedictine monks in the Chiaravalle Abbey, south of Milan, who developed its recipe to conserve excess milk stocks for long periods.
  • Appearance: the two cheeses are practically identical in shape, size and weight.
  • umber of milking sessions: the regulations for both cheeses require that cows are milked twice daily. Even if, starting from October 2019, for Grana Padano, the possibility to use a robotic milking system has been introduced, where the cows are free to go in and be milked, even more than twice a day, according to their needs.
  • Use of same or similar equipment: considering the shared geographical origin, and the traditional nature of the processes employed, it is not surprising that the equipment used – the boiling vats and various tools – are similar or the same.
  • Both also use of rennet that is of exclusively animal origin, and specifically of veal: with regard to this point, the assertion that the rennet employed to produce Grana Padano could be of vegetal or bacterial origin is totally false and unfounded. This can be simply and directly checked by reading the Grana Padano Production specification.
  • Cheese structure: the official regulations for both cheeses establish that they should have a grainy consistency which breaks down into flakes.
  • A long maturing period which may be varied to some extent, although Parmigiano Reggiano is normally matured for longer periods than Grana Padano.

The specific features which have enabled both cheeses to obtain their own DOP certification:

  • Production Area: which for Grana Padano DOP includes 32 Provinces and five different Regions, namely Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Trentino South Tyrol (for full list, consult the production regulations).
    One should remember that the Grana Padano DOP also includes the cheese type called Trentingrana, which is basically a Grana Padano produced in the Autonomous Province of Trentino and which features certain additional specifications regarding the nutrition of the cattle milked and certain aspects of the cheese-making process.
    For Parmigiano Reggiano the production area includes the territories of the provinces of Bologna to the left of the Reno river, Mantua to the right of the Po river, Modena, Parma and Reggio nell’Emilia.
  • Nutrition of milked cattle: for Grana Padano DOP, as well as fresh grass or hay, silage fodder may also be employed (mainly ensilaged corn). he use of silage feed makes it necessary to add lysozyme to the cheese-making procedure: this is a natural protein extracted from hens’ egg whites, that, by law is considered a preservative for cheese. Lysozyme – permitted up to a maximum of 2.5 g. per 100 kg – is used to prevent anomalous fermentation caused by “Clostridium tyrobutyricum” bacteria during the cheese’s maturing period, which could otherwise occur due to the use of silage feed. Lysozyme is present in trace quantities in cow’s milk, and in copious quantities in tears, saliva, maternal milk and in eggs.
    For Trentingrana, the use of silage feed is expressly forbidden, and consequently the use of lysozyme during the cheese-making process is therefore excluded. This also applies to Parmigiano Reggiano DOP.
    In any case, for Grana Padano (including Trentingrana), the strong relationship with the territory is established through the prevalent use of feeds obtained from locally grown fodder, with particular reference to fodder grown directly by the dairy farm for its own use and, for Grana Padano, this bond, thanks to the use of home-grown silage, is the strongest ever.
    Consequently, it is totally inaccurate to assert – as sometimes happens – that the use of non-specific “preservative” substances are permitted in the production of Grana Padano. This claim can reasonably lead people to incorrectly presume that Grana Padano may contain various preservatives, whereas in reality the only permitted preservative substance is lysozyme, which is a natural protein with enzymatic activity, extracted from egg, and that, in particular in Grana Padano PDO, does not perform the function of preservative but of technological adjuvant (note No. 19,335 of 8/5/2018 of the Italian Ministry of Health).
  • Milking: in Grana Padano DOP milk from both the day’s milking sessions – whether used separately or mixed – is skimmed through the natural surfacing of cream.
    For Parmigiano Reggiano DOP only one milking (generally from the evening session) undergoes skimming, while the morning’s milk is used in its entirety, mixed with that of the evening.
    This means that milk used to produce Grana Padano DOP has a lower fat content (roughly 2.6%, while Parmigiano Reggiano DOP contains roughly 2.8%).
    On top of this, Grana Padano DOP, unlike Parmigiano Reggiano DOP and Trentingrana, must observe a regulation parameter establishing that its fat/casein ratio in the boiler must be between 0.80 and 1.05.
    As a result, Grana Padano DOP has an average fat content that is lower than that of Parmigiano Reggiano and therefore matures more quickly.
  • Quality Inspection and maturing: after nine months ageing, Grana Padano DOP undergoes quality inspection and is then fire-branded with the DOP symbol. In the case of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, the quality inspection is carried out at the end of the twelfth month of ageing.
    For Grana Padano DOP the longest ageing period explicitly foreseen by the Official Regulations is that for “Grana Padano RISERVA – Oltre 20 mesi”. ”… i.e… over 20 months. For Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, the longest ageing period explicitly foreseen by the Official Regulations is over 30 months. But both types of cheese are sometimes aged for even longer periods.

Having thus briefly clarified the principal characteristics of the Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano Protected Designations of Origin (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, or DOP), it is well worth briefly reminding the public about the main differences between these two EU-certified products and other similar generic hard cheeses.
For example, unlike generic cheese products, DOP products are required to:

  • a) Use only milk originating exclusively from the area of origin established in its official production regulations; ; while generic cheeses can use milk from elsewhere, and from outside Italy.
  • b) Rigorously comply with a series of EU certificate regulations which anyone is entitled to consult; while generic products are not required to make public their contents or recipes, or the processes used to make them.
  • c) Be inspected by a third party agency authorised for this purpose by Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture, which then certifies (or not) that it complies fully with its DOP EU official regulations. Any eventual certification which generic products may display does not offer the same guarantees of impartiality and fairness, and often the only guarantees such products can really offer is the reputation for reliability that their producing brand may have been able to establish.