The historical background of Italian cheese dates back to the Roman Empire, over 2,000 years ago. Romans devised cheese presses to press cheese curd as early as the first century AD. The Romans was the first one to experiment with aging cheese in various environments to create Italian cheese with distinct flavors, textures, and aromas. To perfect their Italian cheesemaking skills, the Romans built a separate cheese kitchen called a caseale. There were areas in towns devoted solely to smoking homemade Italian cheese in more populated areas. The Roman Empire continued to improve the cheese-making process, disseminating and assimilating Italian cheese-aging techniques throughout its empire.
Many of the Italian cheese-making techniques that the Romans pioneered were largely abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire, only to survive in isolated areas such as the mountain ranges or monasteries, where monks created monastery cheeses based on the Roman inventions. Individual Italian states established their own identities and traditions, resulting in cheeses that were distinct to each region of the country. The types of Italian cheeses produced throughout the Italian peninsula would be influenced by local ingredients and customs.
Types of Italian Cheese
Asiago cheese is a hard cow’s milk cheese produced in Italy’s Veneto region. The texture of this cow’s milk cheese varies depending on how long it has been aged, starting smooth and gradually becoming crumbly as it ages. Crumbly Asiago is commonly grated into salads, soups, pasta, and sauces, while creamy Asiago is commonly used on paninis and sandwiches. Asiago d’Allevo is a grainy, firm whole milk cheese with a sharp and nutty flavor, whereas Asiago Pressato is a fresh, part-skim pasteurized milk Italian cheese that is much milder and not as hard as Asiago d’Allevo. Both types of Asiago are Protected Designation of Origin Italian Cheeses in the European Union, which means they can only be made in their native Italy using specific methods. Asiago d’Allevo, shaved or grated, is excellent in salads, while Asiago Pressato melts well and is ideal for sauces or hot sandwiches.
In the southern part of Italy, Caciocavallo Podolico is one of the most popular and traditional cheeses. It has made it onto the list of the world’s most expensive cheeses, with a price tag of $50 per pound.
Caciocavallo is a stretched cured Italian cheese whose name is likely derived from horse head in Latin, but no one knows for sure. Caciocavallo is a centuries-old Italian cheese that has been mentioned in texts dating back to 500 BC. This traditional Italian cheese rose to prominence in southern Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries. Caciocavallo’s flavoring and texture are similar to Provolone, making it an excellent cooking cheese. It’s similar in concept to an aged Mozzarella. Caciocavallo becomes sharp as it ages, but it retains its creamy texture in the mouth. As part of an antipasto course, serve this flavorful Italian cheese with salami, fruit, and bread.
Bagóss is a one-of-a-kind Italian cheese made in the small village of Bagolino. It is made from the Bruna Alpina cow’s milk, which is exclusively raised in Bagolino, and saffron is added to the curd during the curd breaking process, giving the cheese its characteristic straw-yellow color.
The cheese should be aged for at least 12 months, but it can be aged for up to three years. It has a smooth rind and aromas that are similar to freshly cut grass. It has a savory, slightly spicy, and piquant flavor. Bagóss should always be consumed at room temperature to fully appreciate the hints of chestnuts and walnuts.
Caciobufala is an Italian-style cheese made from pasteurized water buffalo milk obtained at the Piana del Sel Diary. It is one of the most pricey cheeses on the market, costing 45 dollars per pound.
It’s a semi-hard, compact cheese with a delicious aroma and flavor. It has a pleasant and distinct aroma due to the unique ingredients used in its creation.
It is aged in Casa Madaio caves for a year, giving it a buttery flavor and semi-hard texture. Caciobufala has an ivory color and a faint marking.
Burrata is an exceptional Italian cheese made by stuffing fresh mozzarella into a sack, filling it with cream or butter, and tying it off to keep the filling in place. Burrata Alla Panna is a cream-filled variety in which the cream is enhanced by the addition of cut pieces of fresh Mozzarella. Burrata Burro is the butter-filled variety. Although the word Burrata means buttered in Italian, the Alla Panna variety of Burrata is much more popular in today’s market than the butter-filled variety. Burrata must be consumed in one sitting because the sweet, luscious cream filling oozes out to cover the plate once it is cut open. Burrata was first made in the early 1900s in the Murgia region of Apulia, and by the 1950s, it had become popular as a way for cheese factories all over Italy to use up leftover Mozzarella. With crusty bread, sliced tomatoes, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, this Italian cheese is perfect.
Fontina Val d’Aosta or Fontina Valle d’Aosta are common names for this Italian cheese, but its true name is Fontina, with the latter part of the name honoring its production region. Fontina is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from the Aosta Valley in northern Italy, just south of Switzerland. It has a medium-bodied flavor and is slightly spicy. Fontina is a pale yellow Alpine cheese with a natural orange-brown rind. This Italian cheese has a strong aroma and is only available in raw milk form. Fontina is a delicious melting cheese that makes a flavorful pizza topping and is also excellent as a dessert cheese. Fontina is one of the first Protected Designation of Origin cheeses in the European Union, requiring that it be produced in the Aosta Valley of Italy using specific methods.
7. Grana Padano
Grana Padano is one of Italy’s most popular cheeses, having been developed nearly 1,000 years ago by Cistercian monks. Grana Padano is an Italian cheese made from raw cow’s milk that has a robust, sweet flavor. Grana Padano gets its name from the Latin word grainy, which refers to the crumbly texture of the cheese. Grana Padano is frequently compared to Parmigiano Reggiano, and the two Italian kinds of cheese are made using the same recipe. Grana Padano’s flavor becomes more robust and complex as it is aged for up to 30 months. Grana Padano is an Italian cheese with a Protected Designation of Origin that requires it to be produced in the Po Valley areas of Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Trentino, or Emilia-Romagna.
Provolone is considered Italy’s national cheese, having originated in southern Italy. Provolone belongs to the same family of stretched curd cheeses as mozzarella and is now produced in northern Piedmont and Lombardy, Italy. The curd is stretched before being molded into the shape of a pear, ball, or cylinder. Provolone is then hung and cave-aged for three to twelve months, allowing the rind and spicy flavor to develop. Because provolone is drier and sharper than mozzarella, it’s an excellent choice for sandwiches or as a table cheese.
9. Ricotta Salata
Ricotta Salata is made from fresh Ricotta that has been pressed and aged. Ricotta Salata is a rindless, pure white cheese with a chalky, milky flavor. This traditional Italian cheese is excellent in pasta dishes and salads and is ideal for grating.
Taleggio, a soft, pungent cow’s milk Italian cheese made in the Bergamo province of Italy, is a member of the Stracchino family of cheeses. Taleggio is a buttery cheese with a fruity, slightly salty flavor and an inedible craggy rind. Taleggio can be served as a hors d’oeuvre with crusty Italian bread, or it can be melted and used in the main dish or on vegetables.