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Essential Guide to Italian Cheese

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From Asiago to Taleggio, our A-Z guide includes a comprehensive list of Italian cheese, which can be traced back to ancient Roman times. In recent decades, many Italian cheeses have been given the Protected Designation of Origin status (PDO), which ensures that the cheese is made with local ingredients from designated regions and using traditional methods of production.

When it comes to old world cuisine, every culture has its own tradition for enjoying cheese. In French food, cheese is served as a stand-alone course while Italians like to incorporate it into every meal, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some Italian cheeses are also a favorite for including on a charcuterie board or antipasto platter.

Asiago

In the same category as hard Italian cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, Asagio is uniquely sharp and nutty flavored. Made from cow’s milk from the Veneto region of Italy, this grainy, whole milk cheese helps bring pastas, salads, and soups to life with bright pops of flavor.

Caciocavallo

One of Italy’s oldest cheeses, this rare type of stretched curd Italian cheese can be traced back as far as 500 B.C. Produced in Southern Italy, its flavor and texture can be compared to Provolone, especially for its excellent melting action in cooking. The magic of Caciocavallo is the sharpness that comes from being aged while still remaining creamy in the mouth. Pair this flavorful Italian cheese with salami, fruit, and toast points as part of a gourmet antipasti course.

Fontina

A semi soft cow’s milk cheese from the Northern Italian Alps, Fontina is an excellent melting cheese that balances the acidity of tomato-based sauces with its creamy texture and subtle spiciness. Produced in the Aosta valley just south of Switzerland, this premium Alpine cheese is the most aromatic of Italian raw milk cheeses, which makes it a go-to ingredient for livening up classic pasta dishes like ziti with Soppressata.

Gorgonzola

Cherished for its unique tanginess, Gorgonzola is a famous Italian bleu cheese made with cow’s milk from the Piedmont and Lombardy regions of Italy. Produced since the ninth century, Gorgonzola comes in two versions: Dolce, which is sweet and creamy, and Mountain, which is semi-soft and spicy. The traditional aging method produces a mold called Penicillium glaucum, which gives it streaks of blue and a distinctive bite. Soft and crumbly, Gorgonzola adds a punch of flavor to dressings, salads, and pastas.

Grana Padano

Similar to Parmesan but with a unique flavor all its own, Grana Padano is a milder and less crumbly type of hard cheese. Produced in the Po Valley of the Piedmont and Lombardy regions, Grana Padano is made with raw cow’s milk, which is fermented in large copper pots. This time-honored aging process gives it a special grainy texture that sets it apart among Italian hard cheeses. With a blend of nutty, savory, and sweet flavors, this crumbly cheese is excellent for grating over your favorite Italian dishes.


Mascarpone

Another soft, spreadable cheese from the Lombardy region, Mascarpone is made with the cream of cow’s milk from Northern Italy. Rich and milky-white, this Italian cheese is the main ingredient in Tiramisu, a favorite Italian dessert. You can also serve it with fresh berries or spread it on toast or crackers for a savory finger food.

Monte Veronese

The Italian version of Swiss cheese, this semi-hard variety is made from raw cow’s milk from the mountains of Northern Verona. With a mild–sweet flavor and semi-soft texture, this gourmet Alpine cheese has a white or pale yellow color and tiny holes throughout. Add a touch of gourmet to your meal when you grate it over pasta or soup.


Mozzarella di Bufala

One of the most legendary Italian cheeses, Mozzarella is a true delicacy with a rich and slightly sharp flavor. A fresh drawn curd cheese, Mozzarella is made from the milk of water buffalo. Its mild flavor and delicate texture lends a zesty freshness to classic Italian dishes like buffalo mozzarella salad with beefsteak tomatoes and fresh basil leaves. It also makes a satisfying sandwich topping that mellows the intensity of cured meats.

Parmigiano Reggiano

One of the most quintessential Italian cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano is a must-have garnish for all types of pasta. It also tastes delicious on grilled vegetables like asparagus or broccoli. Made from raw cow’s milk that has been aged 18 to 24 months, Parmigiano Reggiano has a sweet and pungent flavor that also works well as part of an antipasto platter. Cut it into chunks, drizzle with olive oil, and bon appétito! The most famous cheese of Italy, Parmigiano Reggiano is named after the provinces of Parma, its region of production, and has also been awarded the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.

Pecorino Romano

Another hard Italian cheese, Pecorino Romano is similar to Parmesan but with a nuanced flavor that is sharper and more robust. The extra kick makes it an excellent grating cheese that can be used over pasta, salads, and soups. Made with 100% sheep’s milk, Pecorino Romano is the perfect substitute for Parmesan, especially when you want a more intense flavor.


Pecorino Toscano

A type of Pecorino from Tuscany, this hard sheep‘s milk cheese has a mild flavor with hints of lemon, making it an excellent variety for adding a bright floral zest to your favorite dishes. Awarded the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Pecorino Toscano is matured for at least 30 days and up to a year, an aging process that gives it a bold flavor and subtle notes of honey.


Piave

A favorite among gourmands and top chefs, Piave is a unique cheese that tastes like no other. The secret to its distinctive flavor lies in the surroundings: the crisp Alpine air of Northern Italy along with the partially skimmed cream from two daily cow milkings. A hard aged cheese from Veneto in the Piave River Valley, this popular table cheese has a sweet yet sharp and flavorful taste that works well as shavings over salads or polenta.


Provolone

A favorite cheese for tempering the richness of cured meats, Provolone adds a satisfying creaminess to your favorite Italian sandwiches. Originally from Southern Italy, Provolone has reached icon status as Italy’s national cheese. Today, Provolone is produced in the Northern Piedmont and Lombardy regions of Italy but the aging process remains the same. It all starts with stretched curd, which is molded into the shape of a cylinder or ball. Provolone is then cave-aged for three to twelve months, which gives this popular cheese a spicy and complex flavor. A semi-hard cheese, Provolone works well when sliced thinly with a cheese slicer and placed on an antipasto platter or layered between two slices of bread.


Ricotta

According to Italian grandmothers and gourmet chefs, the best Ricotta is made in Sicily with local sheep’s milk. An essential ingredient in lasagna and classic Italian desserts like cannoli, Ricotta is a soft cheese with a creamy texture and mild, sweet flavor. Made from the second pressing of the whey, it’s not officially a type of cheese but a creamy curd that is soft and spreadable. Honoring the unspoken rule in Italy that nothing should go to waste, Ricotta is a byproduct of Provolone cheese production, which consists of re-cooked whey.


Taleggio

A soft and robust cheese made with cow’s milk, Taleggio is the jewel of the Bergamo Province. Its buttery texture and fruity, briny flavors are the perfect pairing for crusty Italian bread. It can also be melted into a main dish or used as a grated topping for grilled vegetables.

Try including these Italian cheeses in your everyday cooking and get ready to wow your taste buds with a range of rich and savory flavors. Bon appetito! 

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