The Game-Changing Cheese Only Italians Know About

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Let's just say that pasta night will never be the same.

As a kid, instead of cartoons, I was fed a steady diet of cooking shows. By the time I was 12, I knew how to cook al dente pasta, roast poblano peppers and debone a fish. (Thanks, PBS). But one of the things that stood out the most from these shows wasn’t a skill, but a sponsor. I remember seeing commercials in between episodes for Grana Padano cheese.

Now, over a decade later, that name has stuck with me—but I never quite understood what it meant. Sure, I knew it was some fancy Italian cheese. But I didn’t know why it was so special.

By the way, here’s what to make with every type of cheese.

What is Grana Padano cheese?

Grana Padano is a crumbly Italian cheese produced in Italy’s Po Valley provinces. It’s made from unpasteurized cows’ milk in giant copper cauldrons, then aged for a minimum of nine months.

The requirements for producing Grana Padano are very specific. Each wheel is crafted the exact same way to yield the cheese’s unique flavor and grainy texture. And, the cheese’s branding makes it instantly recognizable. Authentic Grana Padano contains Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) signatures, such as diamond shapes on the rind and a fire brand.

Is Grana Padano the same as Parmesan?

Grana Padano falls into the same general category of Parmesan cheese—but we’re not talking about the stuff that comes out of a green shaker bottle. Traditional Italian Parmesan, (aka Parmigiano-Reggiano) is very similar to Grana Padano, but it actually has more regulations and specifications it has to meet. Mamma mia!

Ready to become a cheese connoisseur? Learn about more little-know cheese types you’ve been missing out on.

What does it taste like?

The taste of Grana Padano depends on how long it’s been aged. For instance, 9- to 16-month-old cheese has a creamy, slightly grainy texture. Once it hits the 16 month mark, the cheese develops a crumblier texture and more pronounced taste. And after 20 months, Grana Padano reaches its full flavor potential. The cheese is hard and naturally lactose-free.

Grana Padano tastes delicious on its own (hello, cheese plate), boasting a rich, slightly nutty flavor. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to pasta dishes or risotto.

Where can you buy it?

Since it’s produced at such a high level, Grana Padano can be hard to track down—especially if you live in a small city. Your best bet is a specialty cheese shop. You can also buy it online.

Buon Appetito!

Substitute Grana Padano in these recipes that call for Parmesan.
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Katie Bandurski
Katie is an Associate Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in writing and email newsletters. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and combing through antique shops.