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Sumptuous, aromatic, and utterly indulgent, there’s no denying that these Italian cheeses are a huge part of why millions from all over the world have a special place in their heart for Italian food.
Whether you enjoy your cheese melted on pasta, baked in the oven, whipped into desserts, or paired with a fine Italian red, Italy has it all, and then some, for you in its bakeries, farms, eateries, and restaurants.
Salivate until your lips are dry on an adventure of sheer indulgence with us, as we stimulate the senses with 20 of Italy’s most beloved cheeses, and how best to try them.
Soft Italian Cheeses
1 – Gorgonzola
Although renowned worldwide, gorgonzola cheese is traditionally from the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Piedmont. The cheese was supposedly invented in the city with the same name, Gorgonzola, now part of the metropolitan city of Milan. However, other towns to this day are still claiming to be the real birthplace of gorgonzola.
This veined blue cheese is made from cow’s milk, with the addition of spores from the mold Penicillium glaucum. There are two main varieties: sweet or spicy.
Have it with a glass of wine for aperitivo, or try it on top of pizza! In fact, it is one of the cheeses that make up the famous four cheese pizza (quattro formaggi), which is topped with Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, Fontina, and Parmigiano Reggiano.
2 – Scquacquerone
Squacquerone is a cheese traditionally from Emilia-Romagna, and particularly popular in Ravenna, Forlì, Cesena, Rimini, Bologna, and Ferrara.
This soft, creamy cheese is a very popular filling for the piadina romagnola, the traditional Emilia Romagna flatbread filled with cold cuts and cheese.
However, you may also eat squacquerone in many different recipes, from pasta to risotto and salads. This type of cheese is simply a must-try in Emilia Romagna.
3 – Mascarpone
Mascarpone is better known for being one of the main ingredients of tiramisu. This soft, creamy, and slightly sour cheese is original to the Lombardy region and dates back to the Middle Ages.
The unique flavor and creamy texture make it very versatile and easy to use in both sweet and savory dishes. Although mascarpone is mostly used for desserts, including cheesecake and mousse, you can also find risotto recipes that use it to create a creamier texture.
4 – Ricotta
Ricotta cheese can be found all over Italy, but it is particularly popular in central and southern Italy. This type of cheese is made of whey, a byproduct of the production of cheese, with the addition of small quantities of milk.
A type of ricotta popular in southern Italy is the Ricotta di Bufala Campana DOP, made in Campania, Lazio, Puglia, and Molise. However, Lazio also has its own Ricotta Romana DOP, made from the whey of sheep’s milk.
Fresh ricotta has a short shelf life and is very versatile due to its delicate taste. Ricotta is a popular filling for ravioli, and it is often used for desserts.
When in Rome, be sure to try the crostata ricotta e visciole in the Jewish ghetto. Many popular cakes are also made with ricotta and pears, or ricotta and chocolate.
5 – Stracchino
Typical of the Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, and Liguria regions, stracchino is a very soft, creamy cheese; so soft it’s easy to spread.
Its name has a peculiar origin, related to how the cheese used to be produced. In Lombard dialect, ‘stracch’ means ‘tired’, and allegedly, the cheese was named stracchino because it was made from the milk of tired cows coming back from the mountain pasture at the end of summer as such milk was believed to be fattier and more acidic.
You can have it spread on bread, melted in pasta dishes, or in baked goods like pies and pastries.
6 – Robiola
Another type of cheese typical of the Lombardy region is robiola, originally from the cities of Asti and Alessandria. Very similar to stracchino, robiola is made with a mix of cow, goat, and sheep milk.
This fatty and creamy cheese is also very popular in the regions of Piedmont and Aosta Valley. Like stracchino, robiola makes for a great spread, but it can also be used in pasta dishes, risottos, and desserts.
Risotto with robiola and speck, or with truffle if you’re vegetarian, is one of the best ways to enjoy robiola and to appreciate how it really enhances the texture of a dish.
Semisoft Italian Cheeses
7 – Taleggio
This type of cheese takes the name from its Alpine valley of origin, Val Taleggio, between the provinces of Bergamo and Lecco.
The semisoft cheese has a washed rind, contributing to its strong taste. Taleggio has been around since Roman times, and until the late 19th century, it was produced exclusively in Val Taleggio.
If you ever go skiing in the Alps, or just visit Alpine villages, you should try polenta and melted taleggio. The cheese is also commonly used in risottos, in combination with pears, speck (cured ham), nuts, or radicchio (Italian chicory). Alternatively, try it on a cheese board, with a glass of red wine. Divine!
8 – Scamorza
This pear-shaped cheese is a close relative of mozzarella, made with the same technique known as ‘stretched curd’, in Italian pasta filata.
There are two main varieties of scamorza: fresh or smoked. Although you’ll find scamorza all over Italy, it’s more popular in the south, especially in Apulia, Campania, Molise, Basilicata, and Calabria.
Scamorza is often used in baked dishes, instead of mozzarella. The smoked version adds a stronger flavor, while fresh scamorza has a more delicate taste. Scamorza is also a great addition to sandwiches and salads.
9 – Mozzarella
One of the most renowned types of cheese in Italy can be found all over the country, not to mention all over the world. However, it’s a little-known fact that the mozzarella made from cow’s milk is actually called ‘fior di latte’, which literally translates to ‘milk flower.’
This cheese must be served fresh, within a few days of being made. Authentic mozzarella is made from buffalo milk, and the most popular version is the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP. Although it’s traditionally from the Campania region, it’s also produced in some parts of Lazio and Apulia.
You can eat mozzarella in infinite ways. Try it fresh in a Caprese salad with tomatoes and basil, together with cured ham, melted on top of pizza, or in various baked dishes. When in Naples, try mozzarella in carrozza, a fried sandwich filled with mozzarella. It will not disappoint!
10 – Burrata
Burrata is a type of cheese, similar to mozzarella, that’s filled with stracciatella, another creamy, shredded cheese. In essence, with burrata, you are basically eating cheese filled with more cheese!
Burrata is typical of the Apulia region, in particular of the city of Andria. As a type of fresh cheese, it should be eaten at most two days after being produced, preferably as a cold dish, with cured ham, on top of pizza, in salads, or on its own. You may also find it in some pasta recipes.
It is sold in a smooth disc shape, and when cut open, the creamy filling gushes out, which is a majestic sight for anyone who loves cheese!
11 – Fontina
A symbol of the Aosta Valley, a region in the north of Italy, fontina is a semisoft cheese traditionally produced in the Italian Alps since the 12th century.
Today, fontina is now produced in many parts of Italy, and even in other countries, including the United States, France, and Argentina.
The original fontina has an intense flavor, and it melts well. Fontina is the base of the typical fondue in Aosta Valley, and it’s also often served with polenta.
The most famous recipe is polenta concia valdostana, made with fontina, another type of cheese called toma, butter, and milk.
12 – Cacioricotta
A mix between cacio (which means cheese) and ricotta, cacioricotta is made through a combination of techniques. Instead of curdling and straining the milk, separating the whey as is usually practiced for most cheeses, when preparing cacioricotta, the whey is kept in the mixture.
The result is an indulgent semisoft cheese, although different variations of cacioricotta can be made with a harder texture.
Cacioricotta is popular in the south of Italy, especially in Campania, Lazio, Basilicata, Calabria, and Apulia. The most famous version is Cacioricotta del Cilento, made with goat’s milk. This type of cheese is often grated on top of pasta dishes but also eaten on its own.
13 – Primo Sale
Primo Sale, also spelled primosale, literally means ‘first salt’, and it refers to the first phase of maturation of pecorino cheese.
As you may have guessed, it’s made from sheep’s milk, and the cheese is typically found in Sicily and Sardinia. This type of cheese is often added to salads, but it can also be grilled or added to pasta or risotto.
A popular Sicilian recipe consists of breaded primo sale, either oven-baked or fried, which you simply have to try if you make it across mainland Italy onto the island of Sicily.
Semi-Hard and Hard Italian Cheeses
14 – Asiago
A cheese traditionally from the Asiago plateau, near the city of Vicenza, asiago cheese can be either fresh (Pressed Asiago) or aged (Asiago d’Allevo). This type of cheese is very popular in the north of Italy, especially in Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige, and it’s very versatile.
In Italy, asiago is commonly enjoyed at the end of the meal, together with fresh fruit, or even for aperitivo, accompanied by a glass of wine. Sliced asiago is also great for sandwiches, and grated makes for a delicious pasta topping.
15 – Caciocavallo
This type of cheese is typically from the southern regions of Italy, mainly Apulia, Molise, Basilicata, and Calabria. You can recognize it by its teardrop shape and hard rind.
While literally translating as ‘horse cheese’, many believe the name instead refers to the way this cheese is left to mature. This process involves tying two cheese blocks together and hanging them ‘a cavallo,’ over a beam.
Loved for its mild, somewhat salty flavor profile, caciocavallo is used in many recipes. It is commonly baked, but you can also enjoy it on its own. A popular dish to look for is grilled caciocavallo, which is served as both an appetizer and as a main meal.
16 – Pecorino
The much-loved pecorino cheese is a diverse cheese, and is enjoyed across Italy. However, its most popular variations are Pecorino Romano DOP (Lazio), Pecorino Toscano DOP (Tuscany), Pecorino di Norcia (Umbria), Pecorino Siciliano DOP (Sicily), and Pecorino Sardo DOP (Sardinia).
The name of the cheese comes from the Italian word for sheep, ‘pecora’, as it’s made from sheep milk. Its strong, tangy flavor has made it one of the most popular Italian cheeses outside of Italy.
If you were to choose a region to eat pecorino, you should probably go with Lazio. Rome is popular for its pecorino, which can be served at the end of a meal with pears and walnuts, but is also used to make famous traditional dishes.
Pecorino is renowned for being the main ingredient in must-try pasta dishes like carbonara, amatriciana, cacio e pepe, and Gricia.
17 – Parmigiano Reggiano
The only original parmesan, Parmigiano-Reggiano, is typical of the Emilia-Romagna region, mainly of Modena, Reggio Emilia, and Parma, although it’s also produced in Bologna and Mantova.
The name Parmigiano Reggiano refers to the origin of the cheese, traditionally made in the provinces of Parma (Parmigiano) and Reggio Emilia (Reggiano).
Parmigiano must be aged for a minimum of 12 months, but many of its extra-aged versions are aged for anywhere between 18 months and three years!
It’s a very popular cheese in Italy, known for its sharp, nutty flavor, and is often added on top of pasta, and used in recipes like aubergine parmigiana or lasagna. Italians often eat Parmigiano at the end of the meal.
18 – Grana Padano
Grana Padano is seen as a competitor to Parmigiano Reggiano. And while many people believe parmesan and grana are the same, true Italians will be quick to point out they are most definitely not!
Grana Padano is traditionally from the Po River Valley (Val Padana), mainly the regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna.
Regular Grana Padano has an aging time of a minimum of 8 months, while Grana Padano Riserva is aged for around 20 months.
You can eat Grana Padano on its own, in salads, or grated on top of pasta. A popular dish in Italy, and especially in Rome, is straccetti rucola e grana, made with slices of sautéed beef, arugula, shaved grana, and sometimes cherry tomatoes. This is a great way to enjoy grana padano in all its glory.
19 – Provolone
The two most popular types of provolone in Italy are Provolone del Monaco DOP, typical of the Campania region, and the Provolone Valpadana DOP, from the Po River Valley, including Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, and a part of Trento.
Provolone is a semi-hard cheese, and in its many varieties, it can be sweet or sharp, and even a little spicy. You can eat provolone in a variety of ways, including baked in the oven, grilled, on top of your pasta, in risotto, or melted on top of meat dishes.
20 – Ricotta SalataCheck Price
Ricotta salata is a type of hard cheese, and has a much longer shelf life than the fresh variant. Derived from fresh ricotta, this variety of ricotta is pressed, salted, and aged for a minimum of three months.
Traditional of the southern regions of Italy, ricotta salata is very popular as a topping for pasta dishes, instead of parmesan. A traditional pasta recipe made with ricotta salata to keep your eyes peeled for is pasta alla Norma, made with tomato, aubergine, and basil, along with the cheese.
Italian Cheeses Summary
While most countries have a big love affair with cheese, few come close to the fabulous flavors, tongue-teasing textures, and impressive diversity that Italian cheeses bring to the table.
The cheeses of Italy encapsulate so much of the country’s beauty, awe, and creativity. No matter where you are or what you’re eating, there will be plenty of delicious cheese to gorge on that both cheese lovers and casual foodies will fall in love with.
When you’re next in Italy, seek out and try as many of these traditional cheeses as you can. You are in for a culinary experience like no other!
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Author: Roxana Fanaru is a Romanian-born, Rome-based journalist and writer, who has lived in Italy for two decades. Passionate about Italian cuisine and culture, she has a wealth of experience writing for various travel and lifestyle publications.
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