Grana Padano is one of the world’s best-known geographical indications (GIs). Originating from the Po River Valley (Pianura Padana) in northern Italy, this hard, crumbly cheese is made from unpasteurized cow's milk that is semi-skimmed through a natural creaming process. The origins of Grana Padano go back to the 12th century and the monks of the Chiaravalle Abbey who sought a way to preserve surplus milk.
In 1954, the Grana Padano diary producers established the Grana Padano PDO Cheese Protection Consortium (Consortium), a non-profit organization entrusted with protecting, promoting and enhancing the product, as well as with promoting scientific and market research to improve methods of producing Grana Padano cheese. The following year Grana Padano was officially recognized in Italy by Presidential decree as a designation of origin (a subcategory of geographical indication). In 1996, Grana Padano acquired the status of a protected designation of origin (PDO) in the European Union.
In carrying out its mission, the Consortium soon became aware of global warming and need to protect the environment.
As the world’s population expands – the global population is set to grow to around 9.8 million by 2050, demand for food is also expected to rise. Without effective measures, the greenhouse gases emissions from agricultural production -, and the dairy industry, in particular where ruminant enteric fermentation produces nearly 40 percent of total emissions – will also increase. For these reasons, in 2017 the Grana Padano Consortium decided to launch its LIFE project, The Tough Get Going (with “tough” referring to the hard and semi-hard cheeses covered by the project).
Partially financed by the European Commission, the project was set up in collaboration with the producers of Comté cheese, several universities, start-ups, and non-governmental organizations. Its aim is to improve the environmental performance and efficiency of European production of hard and semi-hard cows’ milk cheeses covered by a PDO, in the interests of sustainability.
Under the project, a software tool is being developed, the Environmental Decision Support Software (EDSS), to support producers’ decisions with respect to the environment. The EDSS will allow producers to assess the environmental footprint of their products and adopt techniques and solutions to improve it. Once completed, the EDSS will offer producers a reliable tool with proven methodologies. It will also be shared with other EU PDO consortia, to encourage them to similarly become a reference for environmental innovation and quality production.
The Tough Get Going project will collect useful data from farms, dairies, and packaging manufacturers that will be used to develop responses to important questions, such as how to manage livestock manure, how to improve efficiency in dairy plants, how to reduce food loss and food waste. This data-gathering exercise will allow Gran Padano and Comté to develop sustainability benchmarks and to find innovative solutions to make the production chain more efficient.
The project’s objective is to improve the environmental as well as the economic performance of the actors involved in the production of hard, crumbly cheese, and to transfer that acquired know-how to other European PDO and PGI (protected geographical indication) products, while raising environmental awareness among producers and consumers.
The Grana Padano case is a perfect example of how, through the special thread that bonds all the actors in its production chain, a geographical indication can have a significant impact on the environment of the area, region or country from which it originates, when embracing policies of sustainability.