Is cheese the reason we love Italian cuisine so much? If you're nodding your head, it's time to get to know the movers and shakers of the Italian cheese world.
Pecora means sheep in Italian, hence the name for the cheese traditionally made with sheep's milk. However, in the U.S., Romano cheese is often made with cow's milk. Because it's a hard cheese with a salty, nutty flavor, any kind of Romano is perfect for grating over soups, salads, and pastas. And for wine & cheese night, remember that ingredients such as honey, jam, and fruit help balance the salty notes.
Known to be the Italian blue cheese, Gorgonzola has different characteristics based on its age. When young, it has a creamy brie-like texture, but with age it becomes crumbly and dry. So which is better? Well, that's a matter of preference. Either way, this cheese pairs well with pears, figs, pastas, and salads, as well as Amarone, Barolo, and Moscato di Asti wines.
Although this cheese continues to intensify in flavor with age, it never becomes sharp or overpowering. In Italy, this hard cheese is paired with pastas, salads, and soups, but it's more commonly used as a munching cheese.
Ah, Mozzarella. Loved for its appearance in caprese salads, atop Pizza Margherita, and on charcuterie boards, its buttery, milky flavor is always welcome. Look for fresh mozzarella in a variety of sizes, from rounded pearls to balls or logs. And remember to store leftover fresh mozzarella in its packaged liquid, covered and in the fridge—although leftovers are rare.
Coming from the same family as Mozzarella, provolone cheese can be used for sandwiches, paninis, pastas, or even on its own as a quick snack. Just keep in mind, the longer it’s aged, the sharper the flavor. Otherwise, consider it a mild-tasting cheese that melts exceptionally well over chicken, flatbread, and just about anything you'd want smothered in cheese.
Italian-style Fontina cheese is described as being an overall mild-tasting cheese with earthy and buttery flavors. Its recognized by its pale gold interior and brownish-red waxy coating, but it's celebrated for it's meltability. One of our favorite ways to eat Fontina is melted on focaccia bread with a (large) glass of chianti.
The star of tiramisu, mascarpone cheese is used in a variety of Italian desserts. It's considered a fresh cheese that behaves more like a thickened cream. Soft and spreadable like cream cheese, try pairing mascarpone with fresh fruit or crackers.
Ricotta is another fresh cheese that's used for sweet and savory dishes. Similar to cottage cheese in flavor, it has a mild and slightly sweet taste. The texture, however, is smoother and somewhat grainy. Perhaps that's what makes it a great lasagna filling, and an even better cannoli center. It can also be enjoyed as a high-protein snack—try mixing it with fresh fruit and a touch of honey.
Complete with salty, briney, nutty, and other complex flavors, some consider this the greatest cheese on earth. True Parmesan, called Parmigiano Reggiano, is strictly regulated in Europe and must be produced in specific regions with grass-fed cow’s milk, salt, and rennet. In the U.S., however, these regulations do not apply. That’s why many different kinds of Parmesan are available. But if you want the real deal, look for the Parmigiano Reggiano stamp on the rind. Try it with bold red wines such as Barbaresco, Barbera, Barolo, Brunello, and Chianti.