Typical Italian Cheese
Although most Americans think of mozzarella and Parmesan as typical Italian cheese, Italy produces many varieties with each individual Italian region quite proud of their own. Italian cheesemakers are quite proud of their creations, with aging for three years or more, these hard cheeses are second to none in taste. Although many delicious Italian varieties are not available in America, the following are some of the more common cheeses you can find.
Mozzarella is a generic term for the several kinds of fresh Italian varieties that are made by spinning and then cutting: the Italian verb mozzare actually means to cut. Mozzarella was first made in Italy near Naples from the milk of water buffalos.
Since there was no pasteurized milk or refrigeration back then, the one had a very short shelf-life and did not spread throughout Italy from Naples. Fortunately for everyone else, with the development of pasteurization, refrigeration and transportation systems, this delicious and versatile type is now widely available.
Today two types of mozzarella are produced in the USA. Low-moisture mozzarella produced primarily for pizza, and fresh high-moisture mozzarella which is quite soft and can be eaten as appetizers or in salads. This fresh mozzarella is so much more delicious than shredded pizza cheeses and you really should give it a try.
With the increasing popularity of Italian food, fresh high-moisture mozzarella is now readily available in the USA. Most fresh mozzarella is now made from cow's milk, although it can be made from a combination of milks including goat's milk and a small amount of buffalo-milk. It is also possible to get buffalo milk mozzarella imported from Italy.
Gorgonzola is a creamy, firm bleu variety originating from Lombardy, Italy. It can range from mild to sharp and is often used in dips, salads or paired with beef.
Mascarpone is often mispronounced as if it were spelled "marscapone" and also often misspelled that way.
Mascarpone is an Italian italian cream cheese, milky-white in color, spreads easily and often is used instead of butter to thicken and enrich risotto. It is also a main ingredient of tiramisu and lasagne. Mascarpone is used in various dishes of Lombardy, Italy, where it is a specialty.
Ricotta - The name "ricotta" means "cooked again" ("re-cooked") in Italian, referring to the second processing of the
liquid done to produce the cheese. A traditional creamy cheese made from the whey of cow or sheep’s milk and is very similar to cottage cheese, though considerably lighter with more flavor. Its excellent in lasagne and desserts.
Provolone is an Italian cheese that originated in southern Italy. It is basically mozzarella that has been aged and often is smoked. It is drier than fresh mozzarella and is therefore excellent on sandwiches.
Bel Paese is a mild, white creamy cheese made from cow's milk. Originally produced in Melzo, a small town near Milan in the Lombardy region, it is now made in both Italy and the United States. It has a mild, buttery flavor popular with fruity wines. It is excellent as a snack or dessert cheese and melts easily for use on pizzas or in casseroles. It can be used as a substitute for mozzarella cheese.
Fontina Val d'Aosta is one of the oldest cheeses in Italy. Fontina cheese has been made in the Aosta Valley since the 12th century. Made from cow's milk, Fontina melts well and is often used as a dessert cheese and in fondue. It is excellent on pizza as well.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a grana, or a hard, granular Italian cheese, cooked but not pressed, named after the producing areas of Parma and Reggio Emilia, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy.
Parmigiano is simply the Italian adjective for Parma; the French version, parmesan, is used in English. The term 'parmesan' is also loosely used as a common term for cheeses imitating true Parmesan, especially outside Europe where its name is protected. Outside Europe, local cheeses are manufactured and sold under the generic name Parmesan in many countries, most notably in the United States. The grated, flavorless parmesan cheese sold in cans most Americans are familiar with does not resemble real Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can find this Italian variety in specialty shops and some grocery stores. I have even found some imported cheeses in Sam's Club. When you buy it in bulk and grate it fresh yourself right before eating, the flavor is incredible. You will never waste your money on those canned grated cheeses again. Grana Padano
is one of the most popular cheeses of Italy. The name comes from the noun grana (‘grain’), which refers to the distinctively grainy texture of the cheese, and the adjective Padano, which refers to the river Po. Grana Padano is a semi-fat, hard cheese which is cooked and ripened slowly (for up to 18 months). Today it is made in the regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto, and in the province of Trento.
Pecorino is the name of a family of hard Italian cheese made from sheep's milk. The word pecora, from which the name derives, means sheep. Most are aged and sharp. Of the four main varieties of mature 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 nineteenth century.
Pecorino Romano is most often used on pasta dishes, like the better-known Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan). It also needs to be bought whole and grated fresh to enjoy its wonderful flavor. Its distinctive, strong, very salty flavor goes well with some pasta dishes with highly-flavored sauces.
Asiago is a hard cheese from the Veneto region and develops a strong flavor as it ages. It is grated and perfect for sauces.
Is Cheese Healthy?
Because of its relatively high fat content, cheese has gotten the bad reputation as an unhealthy food. But it actually can be quite a healthy especially if eaten in moderation.
Try freshly grating Parmesan or Romano on your finished dishes, and you can add a tremendous amount of flavor without a lot of fat or calories. A little sprinkle makes just about everything taste better!
Sprinkle some of these of Italian varieties on your favorite recipes.
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