Grana Padano vs Parmesan

Comparisons, FAQs

Grana Padano vs Parmesan: What’s the Difference?

Ah, cheese… few things in the cooking world are more delicious or versatile than cheese. Practically every country in the world has produced cheese that is now used worldwide. 

Italian cuisine has always been a home for good, hearty food. Italy has produced some of the world’s most popular foods, from pasta dishes to bread. It makes sense then that the country has produced a few popular cheeses, such as Grana Padano and Parmesan. Many think that these are the same cheese, but are they really? 

Grana Padano is quite laid back when it comes to its ageing rules. So long as the cheese is aged between nine and sixteen months, it is Grana Padano. Parmesan cheese, on the other hand, has to be aged for at least a year but can be left to age for more than forty. 

What is Grana Padano?

Invented by Italian monks in Northern Italy, Grana Padano was a way to help save milk when the monks had acquired too much.

As such, Grana Padano is an aged cheese, typically between nine and sixteen months, depending on who is making the cheese and how rich of a flavour they want the cheese to have. 

Grana Padano does not contain a lot of fat as it is made using unpasteurised, skimmed cows’ milk. This means two things. It does not need to be aged as long as other cheeses, and its texture is the complete opposite of silky smooth.

Instead, Grana Padano is a grainy cheese, hence its name meaning that in Italian. 

Grana Padano Texture

The lack of fat also means there is not much sweetness to the cheese. Its primary flavour is nutty due to the animal rennet used in the cheese. There is an underlying saltiness as well but that is more of an afterthought on the tongue. 

Is Grana Padano the Same as Riserva?

Riserva is essentially Grana Padano that has been aged for twenty months or more instead of the standard nine to sixteen months. So, while the cheese are the same, they are also different. 

What is Parmesan?

Parmesan goes by two names, Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano. Only cheese that has been made from the milk of cows raised in particular Italian cities like Reggio Emilia is allowed to officially be classed as Parmigiano Reggiano.

If any other cow’s milk is used, it must be called Parmesan cheese. However, they are virtually the same. 

With connections to Middle Age monks in northern Italy, the method of making Parmesan has mostly stayed the same since it was invented. Because of its strict regulations and making process, Parmesan is often called the king of cheeses! 

Regarding ageing requirements, Parmesan is relatively lax in that it needs to be aged a minimum of twelve months but can be aged to more than 40 years.

The longer the cheese is aged, the crumblier and more intense its flavour becomes.

With minimal fat in the cheese, Parmesan is exceptionally gritty, growing harder and harder as the cheese ages. 

As for its flavour, part of the Parmesan process is dunking the cheese into a saltwater brine for a month or so, which is why Parmesan is so salty. However, the use of rennet gives the cheese a nutty edge. 

Is Parmesan Cheese Supposed to be Gritty?

Younger Parmesan can have quite a creamy consistency as it has yet to be aged fully. However, the cheese very quickly becomes gritty and grainy. 

Similarities Between Grana Padano and Parmesan

From their texture to their origins, Grana Padano and Parmesan have a lot more in common than many other types of cheese do: 

  • Type Of Cheese – There is one clear similarity between Grana Padano and Parmesan and that is that they are both a type of cheese. More specifically a finishing cheese. 
  • Origins – Both Parmesan and Grana Padano have distinctly similar origins of being invented by monks in Northern Italy as a way to preserve excess milk. Likewise, their original methods for making the cheeses have remained unchanged since their inventions.
  • Low Fat Content – Even compared to other low-fat cheeses, Grana Padano and Parmesan have very little fat. This influences the cheese’s texture and flavour. 
  • Grainy Texture – Because of the low fat content used in Parmesan and Grana Padano, they have a similar texture once aged, which is very grainy and gritty. They also have a harder texture overall due to this lack of fat. 
  • Not Diet Friendly – With little fat in either cheese, rennet is used instead to add flavour and help the cow milk set into cheese. However, rennet is made using animal stomachs, making true Grana Padano and Parmesan not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. 

Differences Between Grana Padano and Parmesan

They may have an extensive list of similarities but Grana Padano and Parmesan have a few points of difference that makes their distinction clear: 

  • Classification – Not every cheese in the world needs a DOP classification. Still, Parmigiano Reggiano (or the true Parmesan cheese) is a historic cheese that does need to follow strict guidelines for its classification. Grana Padano does not have the same strict standards. So long as the cheese is aged between nine and sixteen months, it can be classed as Grana Padano. 
  • Aging Period – Speaking of how long the cheese needs to be aged, even the longest ageing time for Grana Padano (sixteen months) is nowhere near how long Parmesan cheese can be aged for. The minimum ageing requirement for Parmesan cheese is twelve months, but it can be aged for more than forty years. 
Aging Parmesan
  • Flavour – Compared to Parmesan cheese which has a distinct saltiness due to being left in a saltwater brine for a month or so, Grana Padano is not particularly flavourful. It can develop its nutty flavour quickly by its ninth month of ageing, but Parmesan is much saltier and richer in taste. 

Grana Padano vs Parmesan: Which Wins?

You’ve got a plate of paste in front of you that needs finishing with a quick grating of cheese. So, which do you pick? Do you opt for Grana Padano or go with the more traditional Parmesan?

Do You Prefer Grana Padano or Parmesan?

Grana Padano and Parmesan FAQs

If you have further questions about these two Italian cheeses, then have a look through these FAQs:

Can You Use Grana Padano Instead of Parmesan?

Yes, this is completely fine. Grana Padano and Parmesan are both finishing cheeses with similar flavours. Only a complete Italian cheese aficionado would be able to tell the difference.


Where we obtain our information and verify the facts in this article:

Parmigiano Reggiano DOP

The DOP classification of Parmesan and why it has DOP status.

Pasta Evangelists

Everything you need to know about Grana Padano cheese.

BBC Good Food

A definition of Parmesan.

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