Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano are two Italian cheeses that share a number of characteristics and may seem identical but have significant differences that make them two distinct products.
Parm, Parmesan and all other variations with Italian sounding names and Italian looking packagings are definitely other products and have nothing to do.
Grana Padano is a cheese originated from Po River Valley in northern Italy that has similar characteristics as Parmigiano Reggiano.
The name comes from the Italian word grana, a reference to the characteristically grainy texture, and the demonym padano, referring to (cheese from) Padania.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is an Italian hard, granular cheese. Parmigiano is the Italian demonym for Parma and Reggiano is the adjective for Reggio Emilia. Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labelled “Parmigiano-Reggiano”: Parma, Reggio Emilia, modena, Bologna (part of), Mantova (part of).
Grana, on the other hand still has a designated area of production but a much broader one that includes the regions Lombardia, Piemonte, Trentino, Emilia Romagna and Veneto.
Parmigiano is made every morning with a blend of milk from the night before and the fresh morning milking. This process makes the fat content rise. Grana can be made twice a day, with one batch of milk. It tends to be slightly leaner thus have a less round flavor.
The feeding of the cows for the Parmigiano Reggiano must be exclusively made of grass grown in the area of production of the cheese, while for the Grana Padano the cows can also be fed with the silage, as for example that of the corn.
Parmigiano Reggiano rennet is only of animal origin; the one for Grana Padano can be animal, vegetable or bacterial.
No preservatives of any kind are allowed in Parmigiano. Grana’s regulation is looser and often contains lysozyme.
Grana Padano, therefore, matures more quickly. It’s made to three stages of maturity:a) 9–16 months — when it has a delicate, milky taste and a soft texture, it hasn’t yet developed the graininess for which it’s knownb) 16–20 months — the consortium website says at this stage the cheese tastes of ‘an aroma of hay and dried fruit’. It has developed the grainy texture but the crystals are still not much in evidencec) 20–24 months — the cheese now has a rich buttery flavour and crystals are also there.
Parmigiano Reggiano on the other hand takes a minimum of 12 months to mature, and the older varieties take up to 36 months. Any cheese older than two years is known as ‘Stravecchio’. This is another reason why Parmigiano Reggiano is more expensive than Grana Padano. It also results in cash flow problems for the 350 or so Parmigiano Reggiano producers, so sometimes they leave their cheese with their bankers as collateral — the banks have special vaults for storing the cheese.
Grana Padano has a more buttery, darker taste, often recalling the characteristics of broth, or of boiled vegetables; while Parmigiano Reggiano has a usually stronger flavor, which evolves over time. When maturing at 12 months, the characteristics of milk are still perceived, while as it matures, it reaches notes of citrus fruit, and as the months increase it gets closer and closer to hints of dried fruit, the more pronounced note is reminiscent of hazelnuts.