Formaggio Italiano: How the Boot Does Cheese
One is inevitably bombarded with spectacular tastes when visiting Italy. But among its many culinary delights, cheese remains at the heart of its extraordinary fare. Italy celebrates more than 450 kinds of cheese—many are world-famous for their method of production, taste, and texture. Many of Italy’s favorite cheeses are made according to time-honored traditions; this attention to historical detail makes Italian cheese some of the best in the world.
The following cheeses are some of Italy’s most popular.
This internationally-acclaimed cheese hails from the Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy regions of Italy. A cow cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano is yellow and flaky. Sold in wheels with straw-colored rinds, this cheese becomes more fragrant with age. This hard cheese must be aged for at least twelve months. Historians believe this cheese was most likely invented during the Middle Ages. It is widely enjoyed today, however, and typically grated over pasta dishes or stirred into risotto.
A cow’s milk cheese that hails from the Veneto, Asiago also has its origins in the Middle Ages. It is a widely popular cheese that is added to pasta, pizza, soup, rice, and many other Italian dishes. As Asiago is particularly easy to digest and is rich in calcium, it is a favorite cheese of Italy’s elderly population. Aged versions of Asiago taste sharp, while younger examples are popular for their mild and sweet taste.
Fontina cheese originated in northern Italy’s Valle d’Aosta during the twelfth century. Fontina has a 45% milk fat content and is known for its intense flavor. It is often substituted for other cheeses like Gruyere or Gouda. While Fontina is made in other places, Fontina from Valle d’Aosta is made from unpasteurized milk and pairs particularly well with mushrooms and roasted meats.
A famous Italian blue cheese, this crumbly and salty cheese is made from either cow or goat’s milk. Historians believe that this cheese was first made in the town of Gorgonzola around 879 A.D. Today, Gorgonzola is made in northern Italy and is aged between four and six months. Italians love to melt Gorgonzola into risotto, but the cheese is also added to pizza and pasta dishes.
A favorite cheese the world over, Mozzarella is typically a white cheese that tops pizza and pasta dishes. Mozzarella’s milk source is either the cow or water buffalo. Mozzarella made from water buffalo milk is known as Mozzarella di Bufala Campana and dates to the twelfth century. Food historians believe in originated in Campania and Lazio.
A sheep’s milk cheese, Pecorino Romano was invented about two thousand years ago. It was a staple of the ancient Roman army and was revered for its salty and bold flavor. According to historians, Pecorino Romano originated in the regions of Sardinia, Tuscany, and Lazio. Typically aged for at least eight months, Pecorino Romano is widely used in pasta dishes.
Of course, this is just a small sample of Italy’s famous cheeses. With over 450 varieties to choose from, Italians are among the world’s cheese connoisseurs. In fact, bread and cheese in Italy can be a gourmet affair. Be sure to try some of Italy’s best regional cheeses or add them to your favorite Italian meals.