Italian cheeses are considered the best in the world. These cheeses are very famous and widely used in Italy and even other parts of the world. Italy has the highest varieties of cheeses and they are known to have over 2500 traditional varieties.
Five hundred of them are commercially recognized and 300 already have a Protected Designation of Origin. However, out of these Italian cheeses, there are only a few that are used often and loved by many.
Here are the top cheeses that Italians adored and used in their cooking that you can as well incorporate into your own Italian recipe.
Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
Parmigiano Reggiano or also known as Parmesan Cheese in other parts of the world is one of the most common Italian cheeses you can come across. It is made from semi-skimmed cow’s milk. The cow should only graze on fresh grass and hay.
The flavor of the cheese will depend on how long it is aged but commonly Parmigiano Reggiano has a nutty, slightly piquant, and robust flavor.
It is considered one of the world’s top-quality cheeses. Parmigiano Reggiano has DOP or Denominazione di Origine Protetta status or Protected Designation of Origin in English.
This Italian cheese is like a fine wine that gets tastier and richer as it ages. The DOP Parmigiano Reggiano is produced from the Northern region of Italy which are Modena, Bologna, Parma, Mantova and Reggio Emilia.
The cheese must be aged for at least 1 year. However, it can be kept for up to 36 months which produces its rich and unparalleled flavor.
Authentic DOP Parmigiano Reggiano is only those cheeses that are made in their designated areas and should follow the DOP standard.
Mozzarella is a soft cheese that is stretchy and is made from whole cow’s milk or water buffalo’s milk. This Italian cheese produces a fresh milk aroma and mild creamy flavor which is why it is often paired with a light white Italian wine.
Mozzarella Fior di latte is the name given to mozzarella cheese that is made from cow’s milk so that people can easily distinguish it. While the Mozzarella di Bufala is one that is made with water buffalo’s milk which is also the traditional mozzarella cheese.
Mozzarella cheese is also the best cheese for Italian pizzas. However, due to its versatility, mozzarella is now widely used on other dishes as well such as pasta dishes, sandwiches, and even salad.
If you look back to the history of the process of making mozzarella cheese, it will bring you far back to the 4th century BCE. Although mozzarella already existed at that time and age, the first reference of the cheese was found in 1570 from the cookery book of the Renaissance Chef Bartolomeo Scappi.
Italians even created appetizers made with mozzarella named Bocconcini. This is real proof that Italians truly love their top-rated mozzarella cheese.
The next famous cheese made from Italy is mascarpone cheese. It is from the region of Lombardy in Italy and is distinguished by its high contents of fat, typically between 60% to 75%. The texture of the mascarpone can be buttery, creamy texture, soft, and smooth.
When you consume this cheese, you can notice its sweet, buttery, and lemony notes. If you love desserts such as tiramisu and cheesecake then you must know that this is the cheese that is often used to make those desserts.
But, mascarpone can as well be used on savory Italian dishes as it has a very versatile flavor. Mascarpone is known as an Italian cream cheese that is best paired with coffee or chocolate. Even pairing it with fresh fruits will give you the best Italian dessert after a hearty meal.
The texture of mascarpone is more of whipped cream than hard or firm cheese. It is spreadable which is why it is also used as a substitute for butter or parmesan cheese on risotto.
The sour taste of the mascarpone is from the citric acid that is added to the cow’s milk during the manufacturing process. After adding citric acid to the milk, it then gets heated.
The coagulated milk will then be strained using a cloth. The cream or coagulated milk will be left on the cloth and that makes the mascarpone. This cream will be chilled until it thickens into a creamy spreadable consistency.
Another soft cheese that is included in this list is the Ricotta. It is made from sheep’s, goat’s, cow’s, or buffalo’s milk that is slightly cooked until it achieves a lumpy yet soft texture. Ricotta cheese has a mild and rich taste and is best for individuals who have milk allergies.
Just like mascarpone, ricotta cheese is also used widely in both Italian desserts and savory dishes. Ricotta is commonly used as a filling for pasta and ravioli. Due to the ricotta’s creamy texture and a hint of sweetness, it is also the one used as a filling for cannoli.
Traditionally, ricotta cheese is made from the leftovers of the production of other cheeses. When making cheese, the milk will be divided into two: the solid curd and the liquid whey.
The solid curd will be the one used to make the cheese while the liquid whey will be reheated and all the remaining curds on the whey will make the ricotta cheese.
This is how ricotta cheese got its name as ricotta means recooked and the process of making this cheese is recooking whatever that is left in other cheese production.
Made with sheep’s milk, the Pecorino cheese is Rome’s answer to Parmigiano Reggiano. It is even used as a substitute for the Parmigiano as it has the same texture. However, pecorino cheese can be characterized by its salty and strong flavor compared to the mild taste of parmesan.
Pecorino cheese also has variations depending on what region it is produced. You have Pecorino Romano, Pecorino Sardo, Pecorino Pepato and Pecorino Toscano.
Amongst the varieties of this cheese, the Pecorino Romano is considered to be top-quality. It is also the DOP of all the Pecorino Cheese varieties.
If you are looking for a unique zesty flavor or this Italian cheese, you can go for the Pepato as you will surely love the fresh peppercorns that are added to the cheese during production.
This cheese can be used for dishes such as carbonara and Cacio e Pepe which are famous by Romans.
Another famous Italian cheese is the Asiago Cheese that is made from the town of Asiago, Italy. It has a texture similar to Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano. It has a nutty flavor just like Parmigiano and is also delicate on the palate.
Asiago cheese changes texture throughout its manufacturing process. It will start as smooth when it is still fresh and will become crumbly as it ages.
The cows that produce the milk in making Asiago is native to the Vicenza province. This Italian cheese also has a DOP which means that it should follow a specific manufacturing standard to be considered authentic Asiago Cheese.
Slightly aged Asiago cheese is best paired with a lot of food and drinks due to its versatile and mild taste. If it is extra-aged, the cheese will be best paired with green olives, toasted bread, deli ham, and crackers.
The fontina roots are traced way back into the 12th century in the Alpine Aosta Valley in Northern Italy. Fontina is a great melting cheese which is why it is the one used on the traditional Italian fondue dish.
Fontina is a semi-soft cheese that has a mild nutty flavor with honey, fruity and grassy notes. To achieve the cheese flavor and texture, it is left to age for up to three months. Fontina is amongst the first cheeses that received a DOP status in Italy.
To be considered as an authentic Fontina cheese, it should be made using milk from the cow from Aosta Valley only. Furthermore, the cheese should also follow the DOP standard set when manufacturing authentic Fontina.
This Italian cheese is the widely used cheese by many due to its capability to withstand heat. Unlike other cheese, Fontina can last longer at a high temperature.
This next Italian cheese is a little bit interesting. Burrata is made from a mozzarella cheese pocket with heavy cream inside. In English, Burrata means “buttery” which fits so well with the texture of this cheese.
The Burrata should be consumed immediately after preparation to enjoy the freshness of the cheese. It is also best consumed at room temperature and paired with prosciutto, salad, spaghetti, crusty bread, and fresh tomatoes with olive oil.
As you cut the burrata, the heavy cream oozes out of the pocket with pieces of mozzarella in it. You can even enjoy burrata as it is because it tastes great as is.
Now comes Gorgonzola cheese on the list. This is the Italian blue cheese that has a strong smell and taste. Gorgonzola is made from whole cow’s milk and bacteria named Penicillium Roqueforti. The bacteria are added to the pores of the cheese as part of the manufacturing process.
These pores are made by poking the cheese with a metal rod so that the bacteria will penetrate the cheese and create molds. These molds are the blue and green veins you can find on gorgonzola cheese.
Moreover, gorgonzola has two different varieties. One is the Gorgonzola Dolce which has a milder and a sweet taste and the second is the Gorgonzola Piccante or the variety that has a sharper taste.
The difference between both varieties lies in the aging process. Gorgonzola Piccante aged longer compared to the Dolce which is why it has a sharper flavor.
This cheese is mainly produced from Lombardy and Piedmont. DOP Gorgonzola must be made from cows raised in these areas to be considered authentic.
Grana Padano is of the same family as Parmigiano. Both kinds of cheese belong to the Grana cheese family or the “hard cheese”. However, Grana Padano is produced in Lombardy, and the cow’s diet was not controlled by the producers as compared to the cows of Parmigiano.
This is also the reason why Parmigiano is finer and more expensive cheese. Grana cheeses are Italian cheeses that are hard and grainy which perfectly embodies Grana Padano. When it comes to grating, Grana Padano could be your best option especially if you run out of Parmigiano in your pantry.
The flavor of Grana Padano also varies depending on how long the cheese ages. Its taste becomes savory and more complex the longer it ages.
The Provolone Cheese is a cheese that is made from full-fat and is semi-hard. This Type of Cheese is prevalent in Northern Italy and Campania, Italy. A Provolone can be easily distinguished as it is commonly made in large size and is typically molded into pear or sausage shapes.
Provolone also has a cord tied on it. This cheese is made into two varieties as well, the Provolone Dolce and Provolone Piccante. By now, you might already know the difference between Dolce and Piccante as it is just the same with Gorgonzola.
This next Italian cheese is best when consumed fresh. You will surely love the creamy texture of the Taleggio but you will surely notice its smell. Taleggio is the smelliest out of all the Italian cheeses. It is a semi-soft cheese that has a delicious taste despite its smell.
Once you consume Taleggio, you will taste its mild, tangy, and meaty note with a hint of sweetness in its flavor.
Its softness and moisture will surely ooze on your mouth that will give you a pleasant feeling. Moreover, Taleggio is also known to be an aphrodisiac cheese which is why legend has it that Giacomo Casanova consumed this before his romantic conquests.
Additionally, Taleggio is a semi-soft cheese that is creamy with a rich taste that is not so overpowering. It also has a strong aroma that will surely intensify its taste.
To produce these characteristics, Taleggio uses five different molds in the manufacturing process and to produce the distinctive red smear on the rind.
Scamorza is a cheese that is shaped into two balls connected to one another. You can notice that one ball is smaller than the other and is usually tied with a string. The purpose of the string is to hang the cheese until it is aged for 2 weeks.
This process is the reason why this cheese got its name which means “beheaded” in English. Scarmoza’s texture is firm and semi-soft.
It has a milky and smoky flavor that you will love along with its chewiness. Scamorza can also be smoked as an additional process in making it which then be referred to as Scamorza Affumicata.
This variety of Scamorza is often compared with Mozzarella. However, Scamorza Affumicata is creamier and sweeter than Mozzarella.
To Sum It Up
We cannot truly include all of the best cheeses of Italy in one article as it will be a very long list. However, the ones mentioned in this list are the ones that are the most popular amongst Italians and are also the ones they often use in cooking.