The history of Italian cheese traces back over 2,000 years. Romans were the first to experiment with aging cheese under different conditions in order to produce the cheese with specific flavors, textures and aromas.
Nowadays there are hundreds of varieties of Italian cheeses produced in regions ranging from Lombardy in the north, through Tuscany down to Sicily in the south. Many cheeses have been awarded PDO (protected designation of origin) status. This status establishes traditional methods for the production of cheeses and ensures they are made with local ingredients within only proscribed regions of Italy.
Here are most famous cheeses in Italy:
- Asiago. This cheese is made from cow’s milk and may be aged for up to two years. It is mainly produced in the valleys of the Dolomites, especially in the area of Cortina. The cheese is perfect for shredding, used as a table cheese to complement pasta, risotto soups or served atop crunchy baguette with fruit.
- Fontina. This is a semi-soft and buttery cheese with a slightly nutty and mild taste. It is made in d’Aosta Valley in north-west Italy. The cheese is produced from cow’s milk and can be used for fondue or as a simple snack.
- Gorgonzola. This type of cheese is named after town outside Milan where it was made. This is basically the Italian version of Blue Cheese. Gorgonzola goes well with pears and grapes and is perfect for wine and cheese parties.
- Mascarpone. This is the most famous Italian cheese used to make tiramisu dessert. Mascarpone is a triple cream cheese made from cow’s milk with a very smooth and tender texture.
- Mozzarella. Another famous Italian cheese made from cow’s milk formed into balls and typically stored either in water, brine or whey to maintain its sharp white colour and freshness. The second form is typically mass-produced as a soft cheese with greater elasticity than true fresh mozzarella. This form usually comes in a block form or pre-shredded.
- Pecorino. This cheese is made from sheep’s milk. If it is aged can be used instead of Parmesan on pasta dishes and is sometimes preferable if a sharper taste is desired.
- Provolone. This is mildly smoky cheese made from cow’s milk. the cheese may be aged for as few as a month or two, or up to one year. The yellower the color, the riper and more flavorful. With a firm and slightly elastic texture, provolone is an excellent cheese for melting, or on sandwiches.
- Ricotta. It is used almost exclusively in classic Italian dishes such as lasagna and manicotti. It has a grainy texture, but is very smooth when used in either savory or sweet dishes. Ricotta cheese is also used in classic Italian cheesecakes.