The Joys of Excess

One day my fridge will look like this. Oh yes. My fridge WILL look like this... 
Necessity is, they say, the mother of invention. That’s probably true but happy accident probably plays its part too. Ditto boredom. I’ve often speculated how breakdancers discovered they could spin on their heads. Seriously, just how bored do you have to be to think “you know what I’m going to do today? I’m going to try spinning on my head and see if I can do it without breaking my neck.” I suppose it could have been a happy accident – if it was and you’ve got video evidence of that fall, I cannot say how much I would LOVE to see it – but I’m guessing boredom. Or an alcohol-fuelled bet.

But I digress. Yes. Again. Necessity has been behind a lot of great food. A need to get rid of eggs is what prompted the creation of the pastel de nata, those joyous little Portuguese custard tarts. And an excess of milk is how Grana Padano Cheese came about.

Back in my Neal’s Yard Dairy days, I often used to describe cheese as a milk storage system. Milk goes off quite quickly. Cheese – if looked after properly – lasts for months and, indeed, often improves. I always used to like the customers who would ask whether their piece of cheddar would last until next week. Er, it’s already two years old, another seven days probably isn’t going to make much difference.

Anyway, yes, more digression. Back to the Grana Padano (from, incidentally, a new secret stash my wife hasn’t discovered and demolished. Yet.) which, as you’ve probably guessed by now, came about when monks – in around 1000AD remarkably – were faced with an excess of milk. The earliest records suggest that it was the monks from the Abbey of Chiaravalle in 1135 who first made the cheese.

Again, to meander slightly off topic, can you even begin to imagine the efforts and potential frustrations of making an aged cheese? If you made a test batch of something Grana Padano cheese-like today, it’s going to be at least next April (or possibly even November 2013) before you discover if you’ve done it right. Sure you can taste it in progress but you’re working towards a date between nine and 16 months away. Maybe the need for patience is why it fell to the monks? It’s a theory anyway.

So, with time – and, I’m sure they’d argue, God – on their side, the cheese evolved into something really quite special. I could rattle on about the satisfying texture – its inherent graininess is why it’s called “Grana” – the mellow flavours, the umami hit, and all that sort of stuff, but the best way is to eat some yourself.  These days you can: back in the early days, Grana Padano Cheese became something a little more exclusive, being used as everything from currency to an asset to secure loan. I might try that one myself at RBS this week… 


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