Italian Cheese: What to Try Where & Why

If you’re a cheese lover who’s headed to Italy, you are not going to be disappointed with the huge range of incredible cheeses on offer. 

Before we get started with the list of the best Italian cheese for you to try, there are a couple of things you should know if you want to have the most authentic cheese-tasting experience. 

Firstly, as you might already know, cheese making in Italy is not only a rich tradition but also a skilled craft that needs to be protected. To do this, Italy has a system called DOP, or Protected Designation of Origin. 

When buying cheeses in Italy you should always look for the DOP logo which guarantees the authenticity of regional products. This means that you know you are buying the most authentic products made using centuries-old methods. 

Secondly, if you’re searching for your new favorite, it’s a good idea to recognize the difference between soft and hard cheeses so you can identify which you prefer. 

As you can imagine, soft cheeses like Burrata or Mozzarella have a more creamy texture and are generally not aged. On the flip side, aged wonders like Parmigiano Reggiano bring robust character to Italian cuisine and generally get better the older they are.

1. Parmigiano Reggiano

Origin: Emilia-Romagna

Parmigiano Reggiano is a cheese with centuries of tradition. Crafted in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, this delicious cheese undergoes a meticulous aging process, resulting in a crumbling texture and a rich, nutty flavor

It’s best grated over pasta or enjoyed in delicate slivers on a cheese board. If you want to learn more you can usually visit local dairies in the region to witness artisans preserving age-old techniques to create the traditional cheese wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Recipes using Parmigiano Reggiano:

2. Pecorino Romano

Origin: Lazio

Pecorino Romano is a distinctive sheep’s milk cheese that boasts a sharp and salty profile that adds character to a variety of dishes.

Originating in Rome, the cheese is made exclusively using milk from sheep razed in the Lazio region of Italy and is aged for months, intensifying its savory notes.

You’ll often find Pecorino Romano grated over your pasta in Rome thanks to its rich salty flavor which adds to many dishes. 

Recipes using Pecorino Romano:

3. Grana Padano

Origin: Po Valley, Northern Italy

Grana Padano originates from the lush Po Valley in Northern Italy and is a semi-fat cheese similar to Parmigiano. It has a grainy texture just like Parmigiano however the milder flavor makes it a versatile cheese used in various dishes.

With a history dating back to the Middle Ages, Grana Padano certainly reflects the region’s commitment to preserving culinary traditions however there are less strict regulations surrounding Grana Padano when compared to Parmigiano so you are likely to find more variety within the cheeses. 

Recipes using Grana Padano:

  • Grana Padano and Prosciutto Pinwheels
  • Grana Padano Risotto
  • Savory Biscotti

4. Provolone

Origin: Southern Italy

Provolone is a semi-hard cheese that matures into a robust and flavorful delight with a tangy edge. The semi-hard texture makes it suitable for slicing or melting making it a very versatile cheese to enjoy in a number of dishes such as sandwiches, pizza, or paired with fresh fruit. 

Having originated in regions of Southern Italy like Campania and Basilicata, you will often find two versions of provolone. 

Provolone Dole is the younger version of this cheese and is on the softer side of the spectrum while Provolone Piccante has been aged for at least 4 months to create a sharper and harder cheese.

Recipes using Provolone:

  • Chicken Provolone
  • Pasta Fagioli al Forno
  • Provolone and Tomato Frittata

5. Mozzarella di Bufala

Origin: Campania and Lazio

Nearly everyone in the world loves mozzarella but not everyone has tried Mozzarella di Bufala, also known as buffalo mozzarella. 

Mozzarella di Bufala has a unique richness and intense creaminess that comes from the use of buffalo milk. It’s great in sandwiches as well as in Caprese salads or on a margherita pizza.

Recipes using Mozzarella di Bufala:

6. Burrata

Origin: Apulia (Puglia)

Coming from the southern regions of Italy, Burrata offers a luxurious twist on traditional mozzarella. 

This fresh cheese stands out with its delicate outer shell that holds a creamy center that oozes cheese when cut. Whether paired with ripe tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil, or enjoyed on its own, Burrata brings a touch of sophistication to any table.

Recipes using Burrata:

  • Creamy Burrata Risotto
  • Burrata and Fig Crostini
  • Burrata bruschetta

7. Asiago Cheese

Origin: Veneto and Trentino

Asiago Cheese has a nutty and sweet flavor profile that comes from the high-quality dairy found in Northern Italy. 

This hard cheese comes in a variety of textures depending on how long it has been aged. You’ll find nearly everything from smooth and creamy flavors to crumbling wedges. 

Thanks to Asiago’s versatility, this cheese is used in a large range of meals from pasta dishes to flavorful risottos. 

Recipes using Asiago cheese:

  • Asiago Cheese Bread
  • Asiago and Spinach Stuffed Chicken
  • Broccoli Frittata
  • Quesadillas

8. Gorgonzola

Origin: Northern Italy

Gorgonzola is a blue-veined cheese originating from Northern Italy. Known for its bold flavor, Gorgonzola undergoes a detailed aging process to develop its signature blue marbling. 

The cheese’s creamy texture and complex taste make it a versatile ingredient in both savory and sweet dishes. Plus, the different stages of aging create a vast range of textures from smooth butter-like consistency to crumbling chunks. 

Recipes using Gorgonzola:

9. Mascarpone

Origin: Lombardy

This luscious cheese comes from the Lombardy region of Italy and is known for its smooth texture and delicate sweetness similar to cream cheese

Mascarpone is perhaps one of the most versatile cheeses in Italy as it is a common ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes.

From tiramisu to creamy pasta sauces, this cheese adds a luxurious touch to various Italian recipes but be warned, its creamy texture comes with quite a high fat content. 

Recipes using Mascarpone:

10. Ricotta & Ricotta Salata

Origin: All of Italy

Ricotta is a well-loved staple all over the world but you may not have experienced its salted counterpart, Ricotta Salata. 

With its origins generally agreed to have been in Sicily, today Ricotta is produced in many different regions of Italy and is enjoyed in both sweet and savory creations.

Often used in desserts like cannoli and pastries, its creamy texture coupled with a mild and slightly sweet flavor complements a myriad of dishes, making it a beloved ingredient in Italian kitchens.

Ricotta Salata, a salted and aged version is often crumbled over salads, pasta, and more.

Recipes using Ricotta:

11. Fontina

Origin: Valle d’Aosta

This semi-soft cheese is renowned for its fruity and earthy notes that shine in traditional mountain dishes like fondue and creamy risottos. 

If you’re interested in how the unique creamy texture and flavor are developed, visit a local dairy in the Valle d’Aosta to witness the meticulous cheese-making process, from curdling to aging, that contributes to Fontina’s distinct character.

Recipes using Fontina:

  • Fontina and Spinach Stuffed Pork Chops
  • Chicken Valdostano
  • Fontina and Apple Grilled Cheese

12. Fiore Sardo

Origin: Sardinia

For something a little different, Fiore Sardo is a smoky and savory delight that is crafted from local sheep’s milk to create this aged pecorino cheese. 

From pasta dishes to antipasti platters, this cheese adds a touch of authenticity to various Sardinian recipes and its slightly crumby texture only extenuates the flavours.

Recipes using Fiore Sardo:

  • Fiore Sardo and Sausage Pasta
  • Vegetable skewers
  • Tapenade Crostini

13. Scamorza

Origin: Southern Italy

Scamorza is a semi-soft cheese originating from Southern Italy with a delicate smokiness and versatile character.

This stretched-curd cheese matures on its own whey giving it a unique flavour. In contrast to Fiore Sardo’s crumbly texture, Scamorza’s smooth and elastic texture makes it perfect for melting, whether over pizzas, in baked dishes, or on the grill.

Recipes using Scamorza:

  • Grilled Scamorza and Vegetable Skewers
  • Scamorza and Prosciutto Calzone
  • Baked Scamorza

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