Grana means 'grain' but also refers to a hard mature cheese with a grainy texture, aged between 9 and 16 months. It was invented by Cistercian monks at the Abbazia di Chiaravalle (Milan) in the 12th century, who were such successful cowherds that they had a huge surplus of milk. Wheels of grana were also easy to store and could be kept for longer than any other cheese.
The two main types of grana are Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano DOP, which has similar strict (but much wider) geographical restrictions, coming from a number of northern Italian provinces (see below).
The cheese is known by its distinctive diamond-shaped mark, branded on the wheels. It comes in three ages, increasing in strength, richness (and price) with age: Regular (aged between 9 and 16 months; Stagionato 16 mesi (over 16 months), and Riserva (over 20 months).
Emilia‑Romagna: Bologna (east of the Reno), Ferrara, Forlì-Cesena, Piacenza, Ravenna, Rimini
Lombardy: Lodi, Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Mantova (to the north of the Po), Milan, Pavia, Sondrio, Lecco, Varese
Piedmont: Alessandria, Asti, Cuneo, Novara, Turin, Vercelli
Veneto: Padua, Rovigo, Treviso, Venice, Verona, Vicenza
Images by: Tenaya Darlington