Nicola Cesare Baldrighi, President of the Grana Padano Protection Consortium, says that Grana Padano PDO production absorbs 25% to 40% of Italy’s milk production every year. Communication efforts, especially towards the US market, are crucial to raising awareness about Grana Padano’s unique nutritional values and organoleptic qualities, which sets it apart from the so-called “Italian sounding” imitation products.
Could you please provide a snapshot of the cheese market and its growth in 2015?
Well, we are talking about two trends that are quite distinct. Experts generally think that there should be a larger consumption and development of animal-derived protein in the world, including the proteins contained in cheese. But the truth is that over the last two years we have been witnessing an evolution in this trend, which is going the opposite way. There has been a sharp drop of the prices of all dairy production systems.
Was this because of an increase in production?
There was a combination of two elements, the first one being a decrease in consumption, which is not related to the retail dynamics or ordinary consumers but it rather concerns the contraction of commodities—Russia has withdrawn from the commodity market of the Middle East and North Africa—and a decrease in products purchased by China.
Immediately after this there was an increase in the production at a global level and then on April 1, 2015, the end of the milk quota system in Europe. This means that we currently have an increase in production, which is set at 5% in Italy and 10% in Europe. The USDA has defined the milk issue in Italy as the perfect storm: dropping demand and increasing offer. This is today’s general scenario.
Grana Padano, on the other hand, is following a different path because even though it is a dairy product, it is purchased by wealthy and high profile consumers. Using our distinguishing factors as a reference—our history, the qualitative characteristics and organoleptic properties of our product—the international market represents great potential for us.
What would you say is the meaning of ‘Made in Italy’? And what is the contribution of Grana Padano towards the image of Italy abroad?
I think that the origins that lie beneath the success of the greatest international trends are very difficult to identify. This is the case of the business related to the world of wine, for instance. Over the last 20 years, drinking a glass of wine has become very glamorous, even in USA, where people are basically beer consumers. Why has this happened? This trend does not just involve the wine business but the whole Made in Italy food industry. And even though the reasons are difficult to identify, we have two fundamental aspects for its success: the great attention given to food safety, which leads to healthy products, and the great variety in food production, which gives consumers the opportunity to choose from a wide range of products.
In this scenario, Grana Padano is one of the most distinctive products of the food industry for the Made in Italy brand. We are skilled and financially organized to accelerate the growth of our producers.
Expo 2015 in Milan put issues related to food security and sustainability at the center of global debate. What is the role of Italy in sustainable development when it comes to the agri-food sector?
The meaning of Expo basically lies in the ability of the world’s food industries to feed the entire world’s population. This great event has highlighted not only the capability of producing food but also the quality of the production and its great variety. In this scenario, Italy distinguished itself for being the country with the highest know-how and skilled small landowners, as well as the highest diversification of products typical of each single region. This is a very important message that we were able to deliver to those communities that need to adopt agricultural food systems, which would make them self-sustainable.
Recently the agency McCann, which is an international network, presented a research study on food consumption patterns and trends throughout the world. It emerged a prevailing tendency of each single country to use their own typical products and this confirms something that we have always known: nutritional habits are deeply rooted according to each country’s traditions. This means that entering a market with food products that are not typical of that specific country requires a long and difficult process that involves nutritional education. Education matters much more than mere marketing operations.
Could you please share a bit of the history of Grana Padano?
The history of Grana Padano is a fundamental part of the success we had during the Expo in Milan. In relation to the concept of “feeding the world,” Grana Padano was created nearly 1,000 years ago in the Pianura Padana (Po River plain, in northern Italy) with the aim of making the best use of a staple food like milk that was only produced during specific periods of the year—mostly during spring and summer—and could not be stocked. So, in order not to waste all the milk that was not consumed, some Benedictine monks perfected a methodology of milk transformation that would allow using milk all year long.
Moreover, considering that the most precious part of the milk at that time was represented by its fat matter—cream and butter—the methodology consisted first in letting the milk rest for a given time so that the cream could be skimmed off to be sold as cream and butter, at a high price. What was left was a sort of “sub-product” that was then processed into making Grana Padano, a new product that could withstand the test of time. Its popularity though grew not only among people with lower incomes, to whom it became part of their staple diet, but also with the aristocracy. And after all this time, the production methods remain the same.
When it comes to the nutritional facts about Grana Padano, what would you say are its key elements?
When talking about nutritional education in other countries about products which are not their own, it is fundamental to teach people the organoleptic properties of a given product: how to use it and how it can become part of the daily diet, and also its use in the local cuisine. It’s essential to provide people with adequate knowledge of the product in order for them to use it correctly.
Grana Padano is a concentration of milk nutrients. Most of the macro and micronutrients in milk, excluding lactose and whey proteins, are found in Grana Padano, which can thus be eaten as part of a lactose-intolerant diet. The milk to make Grana Padano PDO is semi-skimmed by natural cream surfacing during processing, and then the fat is reduced to an average of 28g to 100g of cheese, of which 32% is unsaturated.
100g of Grana Padano PDO includes 33g of protein on average, mostly of high biological value, represented by eight essential amino acids, of which 18% are branched; these are called essential because our body cannot synthesize them but only take from foods.
A 1oz portion of Grana Padano provides 9g of protein, which corresponds to 18% of DRV (daily reference value). This quantity makes Grana Padano a good source of protein. Moreover, as a milk concentrate, Grana Padano PDO is rich in minerals. 100g of Grana Padano provide 1,165 mg of calcium. In other words, 1oz portion provides 35% of RDI (reference daily intake).
Lastly, Grana Padano is an excellent source of zinc and phosphorus. The vitamins contained in milk and concentrated in Grana Padano PDO are very important for proper nutrition. In particular, Grana Padano is a natural source of Vitamin B12: 1oz portion covers 15% of RDI.
What would you say is Grana Padano’s contribution to the socio-economic development of the five regions where it is produced?
This is where the consortium plays its fundamental role. We process more than 25% of all the milk that is produced in Italy, but if we take into consideration only the north of Italy, which is the typical Grana Padano production area, the percentage increases up to 40%.
The role and activities of the consortium are decisive factors for the economy and sustainability of our producers. We count on 4,500 farmers and 130 producers who respectively produce and process all the milk used to make Grana Padano. Furthermore, the consortium includes 153 seasoners and 132 authorized facilities for portioning Grana Padano PDO.
In this particular moment when the milk market is being hit by a deep crisis, it is fundamental to help farmers and producers continue with their business and have the goal to grow year after year.
How can an increase in Grana Padano exports affect the socio-economic growth of the five regions that produce it?
An increase in Grana Padano exports will certainly and positively affect their economic growth. The more milk being used to produce Grana Padano for export purposes, the less milk will be placed in the general market, which seems unable to absorb it completely.
What are the production expectations for 2016?
I’m expecting a 4% increase, because our performance was already excellent over the last two years.
The TTIP is one of the hottest topics being debated globally nowadays. What is the role of the American market for Grana Padano?
The US is our second largest export market after Germany, so it is a strategic market for us. The TTIP is a topic that is at the center of the debate in Italy at the moment, with a particular focus on the agri-food industry, even though the agri-food industry represents only 5% of the overall trade in question.
I think it is a good chance to increase our export market considering that we still have tariff barriers towards the USA. The debate where Italy is most concerned is the recognition of the denominations of origin of our typical products. We obviously defend the idea that the denominations of our products must be recognized and respected also across European borders, within which there are laws that have to be respected by every single member.
What is the role of the consortium in raising awareness about Grana Padano against “Italian sounding” products?
This is one very delicate and sensitive discussion. Communication is an essential activity that will teach people how to identify an authentic product from its imitations or even counterfeits. On the other hand, the consumer should be able to recognize that, besides the quality, the price of a product can never be the same of the original one that it is being imitated. Many consumers are aware of that and simply pick the cheaper product.
I know that you are a basketball fan. If you had to pick an NBA player to represent Grana Padano, who would that be?
I would definitely choose one of the Italian greats in NBA, either Gallinari or Belinelli!