5 Italian Cheeses You Must Try
As an essential part of the culinary fabric of Italy, Cheese makes an appearance at almost every meal. From the ubiquitous Parmigiano-Reggiano that is grated over fresh pasta, or Ricotta that accompanies crusty bread and olive oil, to the delicate sweetness of Mascarpone in desserts, Italian cheese is often the best complement to every kind of repast (including a glass of wine).
These are several hundred varieties of cheese in the Italian region, and the flavours vary depending on the kind of livestock used to process the cheese. Cows and sheep feed on grass and hay, and this in turn affects the flavour of the milk, lending cheese, the final product, its unique, distinctive flavour.
Here are 5 Italian cheeses that deserve a closer look, and definitely, a spot in your pantry.
By far, Italy’s most well known cheese, Parmesan is used as a grated accompaniment to rice or pasta, or in salads and soups. It takes almost two years to mature, and when it reaches that perfect flavour, it is typically sold as a large block. An enormously flavourful cheese, Parmesan is made from cow’s milk and adopts a very complex flavour profile – spicy, salty, briny, and deliciously piquant.
Made from buffalo milk, Mozzarella is the world’s most popular pizza topping but can also be eaten on its own – in which case, remember to eat it fresh. This hand-spun cheese is best aged as little as possible, as it loses moisture in a day or two. It is also the cheese used in the famous Insalata Caprese; the exceptional depth of flavour and sweetness of this tender, buttery cheese is matched only by its pull-apart texture, making it the perfect complement to fresh, crisp tomatoes.
This blue, veiny cheese was originally developed in dank, wet caves that provided the ideal conditions for it to mature. Now however, it is factory-produced with Penicillium Gorgonzolo, and matures in 2-3 months. Younger Gorgonzola is creamy in texture, softer and mellow in taste. As it ages, it becomes hard and crumbly, infused with the intense flavours of garlic and pepper.
Perhaps Italy’s most versatile cheese, the crumbly, soft Ricotta is used in cooking and is made from sheep, goat, buffalo or cow’s milk. It is used almost exclusively to complement classic Italian dishes like lasagna and manicotti, and its soft, grainy texture makes it perfect for salads and desserts. It is also Ricotta cheese that gives the classic Italian cheesecake its unique flavour and texture.
Mascarpone is a sweet cheese that is the key contributor behind the smooth and luscious highlights of a great tiramisu. A thick cheese from the Lombardy region, it is made with cream and citric acid that account for its whipped texture and mild, complementary flavour. Tender and smooth, it is a thick cheese but is easy to spread, and is best enjoyed as an accompaniment to fresh strawberries – a sweet summer dish.
So on your next culinary adventure, take the time to explore the centuries-old tradition of Italian cheese-making, or plan a wine and cheese party with friends, expanding your culinary horizons through the flavourful delights of Italian cheese.