Cheeses Made in Italy
It was not easy at all to write about cheese. There are so many that i was at loss. I didn’t know if I should list them alphabetically, by region, by type, by the level of likability, or popularity.
There are about 487 varieties of cheeses in Italy (but Wikipedia lists about 1,400 varieties), including fresh spreadable and seasoned cheeses, of which over 300 are recognized as having protected origin (PDO, PAT, and PGI), 52 of which are protected at European level. In terms of volume, Italy is the third European nation for cheese production (1.3 million tons), behind France and Germany, with Lombardy, the region that accumulates the largest number of cheeses (137).
Each regional production is an expression of the identity of a people and its history.
In the North, the cows predominate, in Central Italy sheep prevail, while the reality of the southern regions is more articulated and boasts, among others, the presence of the buffalo.
Then there are the mountain areas, with high-altitude pastures, where full-bodied malga cheeses are produced, without forgetting the growing spread of goat farms, from which milk with a characteristic aroma is obtained and much appreciated for its qualities.
To complicate things further there are cheeses that are produced all over the peninsula, such as Caciotta and Pecorino, for example. I needed to simplify things, so I’m proposing a list of the best (only) by region.
BETWEEN THE VALLEYS AND THE NORTHERN PLAINS
Fontina = Fontina Valdostana PDO: produced throughout the Valle d’Aosta, from whole raw milk from Valle d’Aosta breed cows. Perfect for Fondue.
Robiola di Roccaverano = fresh cheese made from raw milk. The only Italian PDO that can be produced exclusively with goat’s milk, or with goat’s and cow’s milk, or with goat’s and sheep’s milk. However, at least 50% goat milk must always be present.
– However, varieties of Robiola are produced not only across Piedmont from the provinces of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria, but also in Lombardy. And it is one of the specialties of the Aosta Valley.
Trentino Alto Adige
Puzzone di Moena also called Spretz Tzaorì = semi-cooked cow’s milk cheese from raw milk, produced in the valleys of Fiemme and Fassa; the meadows and pastures range from a minimum height of 1000 meters, up to 2000 meters for the mountain pastures.
Friuli Venezia Giulia
Montasio = produced throughout Friuli and part of Veneto, it is a hard, cooked cheese made exclusively with cow’s milk, of medium and long maturation. It owes its name to the Montasio plateau, where there are traces of production since 1200.
Morlacco: also protected by a Slow Food Presidium, this raw cow’s milk cheese has origins that date back to the period of the Republic of Venice.
But I also want to give an honorable mention to
Asiago = Asiago has a protected designation of origin (Denominazione di Origine Protetta or DOP), as Asiago was originally produced around the alpine area of the Asiago Plateau, in the region of Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige. Asiago cheese is one of the most typical products of the Veneto region. It was, and still is, the most popular and widely used cheese in the DOP area where it is produced.
Here things get complicated; there are 14 DOP cheeses, and over 60 traditional specialties, all expression of the production area: these numbers make it clear how much cheeses in Lombardy are at the center of the gastronomic offer. Among its provinces, world-renowned excellences are produced, such as Gorgonzola DOP, Taleggio, Quartirolo, up to Grana Padano.
Honorable mention Gorgonzola = characterized by blue / greenish veins developed by molds inside the paste. Depending on the processing, it can be creamy (there is even a version with mascarpone added in between) or compact (with a harder and more crumbly texture). The degree of ripeness, on the other hand, determines its taste: if the versions with a lower seasoning (minimum 50 days) lead to a sweetness that lends itself well in the kitchen to the creaming of polenta or risotto.
Liguria (where they make Pesto!)
Toma and Sora della Brigasca = fruit of the centuries-old pastoral tradition of the entire border area between Liguria, Piedmont and Provence. Here the Brigasca sheep is still bred, a rustic breed suitable for high mountain grazing. With its milk, two kinds of cheese are produced: Sora and Toma.
TUSCAN, ROMAN, SARDINIAN: MANY WAYS TO SAY “PECORINO”
Pecorino Toscano = soft or semi-hard cheese, produced exclusively with whole sheep’s milk. Production is permitted throughout the Tuscany region and in some municipalities of Umbria and Lazio.
Note: Pecorino cheeses are hard Italian cheeses made from sheep’s milk. The name “pecorino” simply means “ovine” or “of sheep” in Italian. Of the six main varieties of pecorino, all of which have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under European Union law, pecorino romano is probably the best known outside Italy, especially in the United States, which has been an important export market for the cheese since the 19th century. Most pecorino is produced on the island of Sardinia, though its production is also allowed in Lazio and in the Tuscan provinces of Grosseto and Siena.
There is a big difference in taste from the pecorino produced in Tuscany and the one produced in Sardinia, or the South.
EMILIA-ROMAGNA AND MARCHE: FROM THE PARMESAN “KING” TO MIXED MILK CHEESE
The first and only Parmiggiano Reggiano. To know more see all about Parmigiano and Grana Padano.
Squacquerone di Romagna DOP = is a soft and fast maturing cow’s milk cheese, produced in the provinces of Ravenna, Forli-Cesena, Rimini, Bologna and part of the province of Ferrara. Squacquerone is a spreadable cheese used to make the “Piadina” panini, as described here. And also here, about Bologna as the fat lady singing.
Casciotta d’Urbino PDO = is a semi-cooked cheese produced with whole sheep’s milk (between 70 and 80%) and with whole cow’s milk (remaining 20-30%) coming from the entire territory of the province of Pesaro and Urbino.
Raviggiolo = very fresh cheese from whole cow’s milk, soft, creamy, also produced in Emilia Romagna.
Caciofiore from the Roman countryside = it is made by immersing in raw milk, the vegetable rennet obtained from the artichoke flower or wild thistle collected in the summer and then dried.
Honorable mentions: How not to think of the spaghetti “cacio e pepe” or the delicious “Amatriciana“, not to mention the “Carbonara“, all dishes that include Pecorino Romano as a gem to flavor the dishes. Also in Lazio, there are caciotte and pecorino from Ciociaria, Sciacone from Agro Pontino, pecorino and caciotta from Amatrice in the province of Rieti and what is an authentic gem, Amatriciano, marketed only in just a few shops in Rome.
Caciocavallo Silano DOP Abruzzese = it is a semi-hard stretched curd cheese produced exclusively with whole cow’s milk from farms located in the territories of Calabria, Campania, Molise, Abruzzo, Puglia, and Basilicata.
Manteca or Burrino = it is not an exclusively Molise production, there are excellent Manteca also in Puglia and Calabria. The butter encased inside is made from cow’s milk and whey, which is processed in copper or steel boilers. The cream is cooled naturally, which takes at least 24 hours, followed by churning. The butter is then worked manually to obtain “balls.” This is a real gem!
THE BUFFALO TRADITION
Campania … not just Mozzarella
Here things get complicated; how to list just the best among:
– Caciocavallo Silano
– Mozzarella di Bufala
– Provolone del Monaco
– Ricotta di Bufala
– Burrini e Burrata
– Caciocavallo affumicato
Honorable Mention Scamorza: a stretched curd cheese made with cow’s milk. Some Campania dairies also produce scamorza with buffalo milk. It is recognized as a traditional food product of the Campania, Basilicata, Abruzzo, Molise, Puglia and Calabria regions (where it takes the name of “provola“). It generally has the shape of a flattened sphere, weighing 0.15-0.25 kg, and is also produced in a smoked or stuffed version.
THE CREAMY HEART OF PUGLIA, BURRATA DI ANDRIA IGP
Canestrato pugliese DOP = also known as Canestrato Foggiano or Pecorino Dauno. It is a raw hard cheese, made from whole milk of gentle breed sheep from Puglia. The production area includes the entire territory of the province of Foggia and that of 16 municipalities belonging to the province of Bari.
Honorable mention is due to Burrata = The outer casing is solid cheese, while the inside contains “stracciatella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft Texture. It is typical of Apuglia.
Pecorino di Filiano DOP = hard cheese, made from whole milk of Gentile di Puglia and Lucania, Leccese, Comisana, Sarda and their crossbreeds.
Caciocavallo di Ciminà = has been produced since time immemorial in the municipality of Ciminà, in the municipality of Antonimina and part of the territory of the municipalities of Platì, Ardore and Sant’Ilario dello Jonio, in the province of Reggio Calabria.
Vastedda della valle del Belice DOP = stretched curd sheep’s milk cheese to be eaten fresh. The production area is included in the municipalities of Agrigento, Trapani, and to a small extent also Palermo.
Casizolu = rare and precious stretched curd cow’s milk cheese from a land, Sardinia, renowned for its great pecorino cheese. The area is that of Montiferru, in the province of Oristano. To make this production protected by a Slow Food presidium excellent, are the indigenous dairy breeds: the Sardinian Modica and the Brown-Sardinian, rustic cows reared all year round in the wild.
Now you know a good part of the Italian cheese patrimony. My recommendation is to taste cheeses at room temperature, including mozzarella and burrata. Never just out of the fridge. Like many other foods cheeses are paired with wines to make a perfect match.
But that will be another story.