07 June 2021
In industry jargon they define it “White grain” or “similar”. In practice they are imitations of Grana Padano Dop, made by the same dairies from which the Protected Designation of Origin cheese comes out. The one with the red and yellow stamp. They are not new today: they have been produced for over twenty years and there are dairies that have left the protection consortium to produce the similar. The difference between DOP and double is enormous. Grana Padano must respect a strict production disciplinary which regulates all stages of production and imposes one minimum maturation of 9 months. The similari no, even if – with a few exceptions – they are made with the same milk as the original: 100% Italian.
The raw material comes from the same supply chain that produces the Protected Designation of Origin for which similar products function as a sort of clearing house. If there is an overproduction of milk and it is not convenient to put it all in the PDO circuit in order not to lower the price, creating an excess of supply, the surplus is diverted to duplicates. And this is not a phenomenon limited to the Grana Padano supply chain. Indeed, there are illustrious precedents. For example, Fontal, a cheese born in 1955, which has characteristics in common with Fontina and Emmental. The name derives in fact from the contraction of the two denominations.
CHAIN MILK – Personally, I always avoid imitations of PDOs, even if they are produced in Italy with national milk. But if until a few years ago they were not very widespread, and therefore it was difficult to find them on the counters, for some time they have invaded the shelves reserved for the sale of hard cheeses. And it’s easy to get confused. The Padano, as well as the Parmigiano Reggiano Dop, is sold in portions. Slices of varying weight between 300 and 900 grams abundant. Displayed in this form on the counter, the similari are easily confused with the DOP. Also because, contrary to what the protection consortia claim – not only those of cheeses – the perception of the Denomination of Origin by consumers is unclear. Just 7% can say precisely what a PDO product is and how it differs from generics. THE sales prices, as always, they do not represent a decisive criterion for distinguishing originals and duplicates. To write this article, I visited several stores in the Vogherese area, playing the role of Casalingo di Voghera and I bought some similar ones. La Mantua nella, produced by the Levante Agricultural Society in the Borgo Virgilio dairy, in the province of Mantua, which declares on the label “Short chain” and “100% Italian milk”. Selling price: 7.99 euros per kilogram.
Another similar that I put in the cart is the Gran Formaggio Italiano, produced in Cadeo, in the province of Piacenza, by the Colla dairy: this too is 100% Italian milk, price 7.49 euros per kilo. And then I bought a generic called hard cheese 100% Italian milk, Anti chi Maestri brand, produced by Agri form in Sommacampagna (Verona): price 7.99 euros per kilo. I found the first two at Grande I, the third at Lidl, where the Grana Padano Dop aged 14 months was also exhibited under the same brand – Antichi Maestri and priced at 11.16 euros per kilo. But Padano Dop, offered separately, can also be found at just over 9 euros per kilo, just one euro more expensive than the price of similar products. And with promotions it happens to find just over 8 euros per kilogram.
The only positive news is that some chains display similar products in dedicated portions of the counters. It remains to be understood to what extent consumers perceive the different shelf position as a discriminating factor to distinguish PDO and duplicates. Among other things, it is worth noting that the origin of the primary ingredient, milk, is not indicated on Grana Dop. But not because it is not Italian, since the Denominations of Origin are linked to the national origin of the raw material, but because, according to the EU, the PDO already summarizes the 100% Italian origin of the product it identifies.