Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About Parmesan

Are you in the habit of calling any grated Italian cheese parmesan? Then you are mistaken. Or perhaps not, the important thing is that you know what’s behind the name. There are two aged Italian cheeses that have become internationally famous and are exported by the ton: Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan). They are very similar, and sometimes even Italians cannot tell them apart.

This short guide will teach you the difference. You can play the blind tasting game: blindfold an Italian friend and let her try two small bites. If she guesses which is which, get yourself invited to dinner because she is a true gourmet. If not, you’ve earned your dinner with your culinary skills... but get her to take you to that supercool restaurant you’ve always wanted to try!

La Dolce Vita

The taste

Grana Padano DOP has a buttery taste. Parmigiano Reggiano DOP has a sharper taste that changes over time. Both are generally consumed grated.

Area of production

Grana Padano is produced in Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino Alto Adige, the Veneto and in some areas of Emilia Romagna. Different kinds are available, depending on the length of the aging process. Parmigiano Reggiano is produced only in Emilia-Romagna and around the city of Mantua in Lombardy. Here too the taste changes depending on the length of aging.

La Dolce Vita

Animal feeds

The cows that provide the milk for Grana Padano are fed with grass or silage, or grain stored in large silos with hay. Those that provide the milk for Parmigiano Reggiano can only be fed with zero-mile hay.

Preservation and aging

Grana Padano may contain preservatives (lysozyme only), and the aging process ranges from 9 to 24 months.

La Dolce Vita

The rennet

In Grana Padano it can be vegetable, animal or bacterial. Only animal rennet is allowed in Parmigiano.

La Dolce Vita



Wine: Grana Padano aged for 12 months goes well with fresh, fruity white wines. Those aged for over 20 months can be accompanied by red wines of moderate intensity and body that are still young and fresh, like Lambrusco. Over 20 months requires smooth, tannic wines like Barolo, or dessert and fortified wines. Great with Champagne.

Beer: Pils, Bock and Dopplebock


Evergreen: nuts, pears
Refined: chestnut honey, fruit compote
Fresh: grapes, green tomato jam Unusual: balsamic vinegar, mandarin jam
Inexpensive: grapes, zucchini, and kiwi

La Dolce Vita



Wine: Spumante Brut, Malvasia dei colli di Parma, Valpolicella Ripasso Also excellent with Champagne. Beer: Trappist beers, Dunkelweizen


Evergreen: balsamic vinegar, pears Refined: fruit mustards
Fresh: apples, peaches, figs Unusual: chestnut honey, kiwi Inexpensive: walnuts, grapes

La Dolce Vita

Before You Go

Popular in the Community