The Indians Who Move Italy’s Cheese

The Grana Padano cheese industry in Pessina Cremonese of Italy is powered not by locals but by Indian immigrants.

If French cheeses are best served preceding or culminating a meal, Italian cheeses are often woven into the fabric of dinner (or breakfast, or lunch). And when you look to Italy, look beyond the likes of Parmigiano-ReggianoMozarella di Bufala and Gorgonzola.Then you are bound to hear of Grana Padano. Pessina Cremonese in northern Italy is known for its hard Grana Padano cheese. But unlike other cheeses that might be made by the locals of the area, this cheese at least depends on an unusual community of immigrants: Sikhs. Nothing like food to bring communities together.

A sweet hard cheese made with milk from the Po Valley of Northern Italy. It’s like Parmesan in the sense that it is a hard Italian cheese made from cow’s milk, but Grana Padano is specifically made from milk from Northern Italy’s Po River Valley following a tradition created by monks in 1000 AD. It was originally produced as a way of using up leftover milk and to this day is made with skimmed milk. It has a more subtle and less salty flavor than Parmesan. It also tends to be less expensive.

Today’s Grana is aged between nine and 20-30 months. The youngest lends itself best to cooking, although never physically cook the cheese because it will separate unless it is sealed inside something like a ravioli or breast of chicken. The more mature cheese (Riseva is a variety aged 20 months or more), has a very grainy, flaky texture. It’s best enjoyed on its own or grated over a dish.

It is not unusual to hear of Sikhs involved in agriculture, but they became integral to cheese making in Italy only in the 1990s. As Italians began to move away from Pessina Cremonese and the manual labour that goes into the making of cheese, Sikh immigrants moved in. Sixteen percent of Pessina Cremonese’s population are immigrants. Most of them are of Indian origin.

This new documentary Sikh Formaggio looks at how the community almost saved the industry from complete collapse after locals began to move away to better jobs. Community and collaboration at its best, we say.

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