Four Drink Pairings for Grana Padano

Until recently, Grana Padano and I were long-lost pen pals. My last blog post about this strapping cheese was back in 2010 when I spent an evening with Grana making pesto. Then in 2012, when I was writing Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese, we corresponded again – I called Grana “Parmigiano’s understudy.”

That’s because Grana Padano is typically younger and less expensive than Parm. A good snacker, cheesemongers told me. Not as complex as Parm, but still reliable.

We got reacquainted, Grana Padano and I, at a party in Napa a few weeks ago. I watched a big Sicilian named Francesco break down a giant wheel of Grana, which was a little bit like watching someone claw open a boulder. Many small knives (a.k.a. Parm stilettos) must be inserted around the wheel’s hard midsection. Then the knife handles are jostled until the cheese snaps apart into two clean rounds. Voila, it opens like a geode. All glistening crystal.

Once opened, there is a perfume.

Yes, a perfume. It is sweet, the way you wish your sock drawer could smell. Like fresh apricots. And the taste? Like dried stone fruit and warm milk. A comfort cheese.

About Grana Padano
  • Grana means “granular” – it falls apart on the tongue, like a sugar cube. Padano refers to its origin: a clearly defined area around the Po River in northern Italy, where the cows graze. It’s a raw milk cheese.
  • Monks developed the recipe for Grana in the 12th century, aiming for a practical hard cheese that could be aged in caves for years. (Stock your bunkers with it!) So, it lasts a lonnng time.
  • Grana was one of the first cheeses protected by the European Union. Not just anybody can produce a cheese called Grana Padano. Like Champagne, it’s connected to a region and to regulations.
  • Four million wheels of Italian Grana are sold each year. In order to be branded as Grana Padano, the wheels have to be inspected and certified. Young wheels (9 to 16 months) are pale in color and mild in flavor. After 16 months, the cheese crystalizes (look for white dots) and grows sweetly tangy. Wheels marked Riserva are age 20+ months gain a golden color, plus a bigger flavor.

Four Drink Pairings

Go big red. Yes, yes, this cheese likes those heavy reds. Raid your basement for a Barolo, then cut into some good cured meat and set out some good Italian olives.

Get fizzy. Like Parm, Grana is great with Prosecco and other bubblies. Pop a bottle on the stoop, and serve some Grana shards with a bowl of stone fruit. A Bellini (bubbles + peach puree) would be awfully dreamy to pair.

Grab some kombucha. Right. I know you don’t believe me. But it works. Avoid the berry ‘booch on this one. Stick with a fairly plain variety that’s pleasantly sweet and tart. Add some raw nuts, and you’ve got the best possible desk lunch.

Cocktail it up. Try a sherry cocktail, so you can lean on a bit of fruity richness. A Coronation Cocktail is one of my new faves, a recipe I tested recently for a new book. Of course the recipe is below, dahhhlink.

Recipe: A Coronation Cocktail

A lovely balance of sweet and savory, this vintage cocktail from The Savoy Cocktail Book pairs well with a hunk of Grana and a side of cured meat, like Prosciutto di Parma or Prosciutto di San Daniele.

  • 11/2 ounces Amontillado sherry
  • 11/2 ounces dry vermouth (I like Noilly Prat)
  • 1/4 ounce Luxardo
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • Lemon or orange twist for garnish

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish.


Disclosure: I learned about the Grana Padano during a recent press trip, and the gorgeous hunk in the photos followed me home in my suitcase.


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One Response to “Four Drink Pairings for Grana Padano”
  1. George H says:

    “Poor men’s Parmesan”.

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