Italy — the country of great cuisine, amazingly delicious and little-known wine varietals, olive oil, art and opera and cheese. It is estimated that there are over 450 different types of cheese made in Italy. Of these, 34 have been granted a protected status by the European Commission. Some of Italy’s most famous cheeses, such as Pecorino, are believed to have roots dating back over 2,000 years. While tracing any cheese’s exact history can be difficult, of one thing there is no doubt: Italy has a passion for cheese and an ability to create world-class cheeses that are loved and eaten around the world.
The ancient Romans were dedicated cheese makers and eaters. Many Roman homes had a special kitchen set aside that was used only for cheese making. The finished cheeses could also be stored and aged there. Some of these early cheeses would be smoked over apple wood chips, yielding a product that is still found today: smoked provolone.
Parmigiano Reggiano — Parmesan in English — is widely known as the king of Italian cheeses. Writers of the past such as Boccaccio in “The Decameron” and Samuel Pepys in his London diary have waxed poetic about the joys of Parmesan cheese. If you have ever eaten real Parmigiano, which bears a distinctive seal and stamp on its rind, you know that it tastes nothing like the ubiquitous grated Parmesan in a cylindrical cardboard box.
Each region of Italy is known for producing different styles and types of cheese. Lombardy, for example, is best known for its Provolone, Taleggio, and Grana Padano. Perhaps its most famous cheese, however, is Gorgonzola. This cheese derives its distinctive flavor from the blue mold veins that are allowed to develop in the cheese. It is believed to have originated in the ninth or tenth century and was named after a town in the region. It comes in two varieties: A younger variety called “dolce” or sweet and a drier, older variety that is crumbly and is frequently used on salads and in cooking.
From the Apennine Mountain region of Italy comes a cheese called Caciocavallo. This is a stretched curd cheese that can be made from either sheep’s or cow’s milk.
The finished cheese is shaped like a teardrop, and its flavor to a Southern Italian Provolone with a hard, edible rind. This is one of the Italian cheeses with a protected geographical status in the Southern Apennine Provinces of Italy. This dictates which types of animals can be used to make Caciocavalla and how the cheese is aged and stored.
From the much-loved Tuscany region of Italy comes the much-loved Pecorino Toscano. A firm-textured ewe’s milk cheese, it also enjoys protected geographical status. Pecorino Toscano is the third largest cheese produced in Italy. Aged in flattened spheres, this cheese has a wide array of uses depending upon its age. Young Pecorino is delicious on salads, while a more mature Pecorino pairs well with honey, figs, and pears. In it is most mature stage and as the nutty flavor deepens, it is often grated over soups, stews, and pasta dishes much like Parmesan.
The Italian cheese world offers so many possibilities for delicious cheese sampling.
See what we have on our menu in Italian cheeses the nest time you stop in at the Naked Grape.