Grated on a good plate of pasta, consumed in shavings or combined with other dishes, Grana Padano is one of the protagonists of Italian cuisine (and not only).
In 2014, 4.840.019 cheese wheels have been produced, 1.588.000 of which have been sold abroad, especially around the European Union. According to the data provided during the Consorzio del Grana Padano budget meeting held last April, Germany is the main Grana Padano exporter (373.192), followed by the United States (142.608) and Switzerland (142.554).
This is a great success for a food item created with the purpose of avoiding waste, as a way to store milk surplus.
A solution to foodwaste
Grana Padano’s origins date back to the beginning of the 12th Century at the very heart of southern Lombardy, in an area surrounded by the rivers Adda and Mincio.
Cistercian monks, residing in Chiaravalle Abbey, cleaned up the territory facilitating pastures’ increase and the growth of cattle farming. This caused an availability of milk that exceeded the population’s needs.
In order to preserve the entire milk surplus, the monks developed the recipe for Grana Padano. This is how one of most famous hard Italian cheeses was born. In about a thousand years, its production has notably increased but it hasn’t lost its typical “no-waste” vocation that makes it the perfect eco-friendly cheese.
Environmental sustainability today
Nowadays, scientific studies can be conducted to evaluate and improve a product’s environmental sustainability. This is what has been done by researchers at the Università Cattolica in Pavia, who have verified the real impact that Grana Padano has on the environment. To do so, they have selected a sample of farms, collecting data on their energy and water consumption during the whole production chain.
To evaluate the environmental impact, researchers have analysed the forage destined to the cattle, the production and transport of cheese, the packaging choices, up until the waste disposal. By breaking up and analysing the different stages of the production chain, it has been possible to calculate the environmental impact they individually have (for example, the amount of CO2 produced or water consumed) and to identify which of these stages damage the environment the most. The aim was to adopt some precautionary measures, such eco-friendly animal food, or easy recyclable packaging.
How is a Grana Padano cheese wheel made?
At the Expo2015, Bruno, Giovanni and their colleagues of the Consorzio Grana Padano produce two cheese wheels per day. It’s possible to see them at work behind the glass walls of the cheese factory set up in Cascina Triulza, from Monday to Friday at 11:30 and at 16. The production is the same one conducted in any other cheese factory of the consortium.
Milk is poured down a copper kettle. The dairymen add natural whey and rennet which makes milk thicker, forming a curd. This is broken into granules thanks to the “spino”, a special globe-shaped instrument with metallic layers that, like meridian and parallel lines, meet together forming a grid.
20 to 22 minutes are needed from the rennet introduction up until the moment of the so-called “cooking”. After that, the mixture is cooked at around 53° -56° C and is set aside for about an hour: it’s necessary to wait before the actual cheese is formed. All the granules plummet in the copper kettle, leaving the whey on the surface, and they go at the very bottom merging with one another, giving birth to the first Grana wheel. Then, the cheese is collected in a linen cloth, it’s extracted, drained and put in a plastic container for 24 hours. After that, it is placed in a steel container for another 24 hours and later plunged into brine for 30 days (15 days if the form can be entirely soaked in brine).
The wheels produced at the Expo2015 will complete this last stage in a Lombard cheese factory, before going to the maturing rooms. All the wheels produced at the EXPO can be identified by a special mark, and they will be sold at a charity auction.
Grana Padano’s Identikit
- Semi-fat hard cheese, finely granulated and cooked, obtained from partially skimmed milk that comes from two daily milking;
- A wheel’s diameter is around 45cm and its height can reach up to 25cm;
- Its weight does not go over 40kg;
- The rind is hard and smooth, dark yellow and around 4-8mm thick;
- The paste is white or straw yellow, without holes.
- The production area goes all around Northern Italy and in particular around the Pianura Padana region and the territories north to the river Po. It covers 5 regions: Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Piedmont, Trentino Alto-Adige and Veneto.
Originally written by Viviana Brun (CISV NGO) and translated into English by Marta Catalano.