Back in September I attended an interesting event to promote the Grana Padano Consortium. During the lunch and cookery workshop, which were held at Cucina Caldesi in Marylebone, I discovered more about the heritage and uses of this famous cheese.
I learned that Grana Padano has been used in Italian cooking for more than 1,000 years! I can speak from personal experience when I say that you will find a piece of Grana in every Italian household. Usually it is grated over pasta at lunch time, but I also often eat just with a piece of bread, as a snack before dinner.
Grana Padano cheese obtained the "Protected Designation of Origin" P.D.O. in 1996. This is a sign of quality awarded by the European Union to regulate and protect the production of selected foods. It means that the production, grating and packaging of Grana Padano P.D.O. cheese is strictly limited to the Po river valley (Valle Padana) in Northern Italy.
Over 15 litres of partially skimmed milk are required to produce one kilogram of Grana Padano and each wheel of cheese is almost 40 kilos. 4.6 million wheels of cheese are made each year and sold worldwide. The Grana Padano Consortium ensures that, after the appropriate aging period, every wheel is individually tested with regard to its aroma, flavour and age of maturity.
Once a wheel of Grana Padano is made, it has to age for at least 10 months to be savoured. This cheese will have a delicate and subtle flavour. After 16 months, its water content is reduced and the cheese gains a distinctive savouriness, due to the advanced maturing of the milk proteins. After a lenghty maturing period of 20 months, Grana Padano is known as Riserva and a special fire-branded mark is applied to the wheels. This cheese has a grainy texture that causes it to fracture into slivers; the flavour is rich and full. At this age, the cheese is perfect for grating.
Grana Padano should be stored in the fridge, wrapped in good quality cling-film or in a freezer bag. To enjoy the maximum aroma and flavour of Grana Padano, you need to take it out of the fridge one hour before consuming.
After the presentation by Carlo Canale of the Grana Padano Consortium, it was time for Giancarlo Caldesi to present recipes for a four-course meal based on Grana Padano cheese.
Giancarlo, an Italian chef who has worked in the UK since 1974, is famous for his friendly and outgoing personality and his humor. I have met him a few times and always enjoyed his witty comments and funny jokes.
Giancarlo worked in several restaurants before opening his own "Caldesi Tuscan" restaurant in Marylebone in 1993. This expanded over the years with "Caffe Caldesi", "Caldesi in Campagna" and "Cucina Caldesi", which was voted number one cookery school in the UK by The Independent newspaper.
Giancarlo, who has starred in a TV series and co-written two cookery books, has long been an advocate of Grana Padano, and has developed many recipes with this cheese.
My favourite dish from the lunch was the risotto with Grana Padano ice-cream. It was so good I helped myself to a second serving! It's such an original recipe and it tastes so delicious, that I had to share it with you.
Recipe by Giancarlo Caldesi
Grana Padano Ice-Cream
* 250ml whole milk * 100ml double cream * 2 bay leaves * 125g Grana Padano, shaved * 2 tbs Marsala dolce (sweet) * 250g ricotta * salt (if necessary)
Put the milk, cream and bay leaves in a medium saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from the heat and add the shavings of Grana Padano, stirring to melt them into the milk.
Add the Marsala and then transfer to a freezer proof container to cool. Remove the bay leaves and add the ricotta, whisking it in to smooth out any lumps.
Put the container in the freezer (I usually leave the whisk in too). After 30 minutes, whisk again to make the consistency lighter and fluffier. Repeat the freezing and whisking a couple of times, then remove the whisk and leave in the fridge if you are going to use it that day. Otherwise freeze completely and remember to bring it out of the freezer and put into the fridge the day before you need it.
Risotto al Grana Padano
Serves 4 as a main course.
* 80g butter * 1l good quality vegetable, chicken or fish stock * 1/2 medium white onion, chopped * 400g Arborio rice * 50g Grana Padano * salt and pepper
Melt 50g of the butter in a large saucepan. Have the stock simmering next to you over a medium heat. Add the onions. salt and pepper to the saucepan with the stock and sweat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, Add rice and toast it for 3-5 minutes until all the grains are covered in the oil and have become very hot but not burnt. Keep stirring. Add 500ml of the hot stock, and stir quickly into the rice. When a crescent moon shape appears in the bottom of the pan while you stir, add more stock, a few tablespoons at a time.
After about 20-25 minutes and when you have used almost all the stock, taste the rice to see whether it is done. Stop cooking when the rice grains retain the merest hint of crunch in the centre. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
To finish, remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and the Grana Padano. Cover the pan and allow the risotto to rest no longer than a few minutes or it will become too thick.
Serve the risotto in a plate with scoops of Grana Padano ice-cream.