Have you ever wondered what are the differences between Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano?

Let’s start first from the origin of these two world-famous cheeses.

It is believed that both cheeses originated in the Middle Ages around the 12th century in the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries of Parma and Reggio Emilia, where the production of a hard cheese, obtained from a long processing of milk in large boilers, was quite common.

Today, Parmigiano Reggiano is made with the same ingredients as nine centuries ago (milk, natural rennet, salt and no additives), in the same places and with the same procedure that has become almost a ritual. Its production remains limited to Emilia Romagna, in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and in some parts of the provinces of Mantua (in the right side of the river named Po) and Bologna (in the left side of the river named Reno).

Grana Padano, on the other hand, is now produced by farms located in 33 provinces of 5 Italian regions: Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Trentino Alto Adige (only the provinces of Trento and Bolzano).

Outwardly, these two PDO cheeses are quite similar, same shape, same weight and same size. But there are significant differences between Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano:

For the production of Grana Padano, dairy cows are given fresh fodder and hay, but the use of ensiled fodder, especially corn silage is also allowed. The use of this substance could cause abnormal fermentation during the maturation of the cheese, which is why in the production process, it is used an additional ingredient, the lysozyme, a natural protein extracted from chicken egg white, allowed for a maximum of 2.5 grams per 100 liters of milk, which is labeled as a preservative.

On the contrary, in the production of Parmigiano Reggiano, the use of silage is expressly prohibited, as well as the lysozyme. The diet therefore includes exclusively herbs originating from the cheese production area, in particular hay, alfalfa and stable grass.

The rennet used for Parmigiano Reggiano is exclusively of animal origin, while for the Grana Padano, vegetable or bacterial rennet can also be used.

The discipline concerning milking, states for both cheeses, that the cows are milked twice a day.

In the production of Grana Padano both milkings are used, either separated or mixed, and then skimming is made by letting the cream emerge in a natural way.

There are several constraints in the production of Parmigiano Reggiano. Only the milk collected in the evening is used in the skimming process. The milk of the second daily milking is indeed left to rest in the vats for up to 15 hours to bring out and subsequently eliminate the fat on the surface. On the contrary, milk collected in the morning is used whole and mixed with the defatted one in the evening. This means that Parmigiano Reggiano can be produced with only one working shift per day, while Grana Padano with two.

This different type of procedure means that milk used to make Grana Padano is slightly less fat than the one used for Parmigiano Reggiano (respectively 2.6% and 2.8% fat).

Aging is another distinguishing element of the two cheeses.

We have seen that the milk used has different fat percentages for the two cheeses, which makes Grana Padano with slightly less fat than Parmigiano Reggiano. This obviously has consequences in the maturing times.

Grana Padano has a minimum maturation period of 9 months, corresponding to the time necessary for the cheese to acquire the characteristics of a finished product. At this point it will be possible to proceed with the marking.

For Parmigiano Reggiano, on the other hand, a minimum of 12 months is required, but it can reach longer aging periods, even more than 60 months.

Last but not least, the taste. Our taste buds are the absolute best judge, not in terms of subjective preference but in terms of flavor.

Parmigiano Reggiano tends to be more savory, round, full-bodied and with herbaceous notes, while Grana Padano is more delicate, soft and enveloping, making it softer and buttery on the palate.