Top 20 Most Popular Italian Cheeses
Excellent as a snack, an appetizer, a main course, or a dessert and matched with a good wine, cheese is the prince of the Italian table. It is found in many varieties, all of which need to be tasted in their goodness, region by region, from the North to the South of the country.
Let’s travel around the tables of Italy to learn about its gastronomical heritage, discover its history, and hear the regional stories. Welcome to the fantastic and varied world of Italian cheese: a story in evolution between taste and tradition.
Below is a list of some of the most popular Italian cheeses out there.
1. Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan Cheese)
Whenever we talk about Emilia Romagna we instantly think of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP. The first testimonies of the cheese date back to 1254. This king of Italian cheeses is hard, semi-fat, produced with unpasteurızed cow’s milk with no additives, and goes through a slow aging process.
It has a fairly strong smell and aroma and is eaten in flakes or grated on various dishes. Commercially, it can be found in different varieties, characterized by maturations of 12, 24, or 30 months. However it can also be found seasoned for 36, 48, and 72 months.
Check out below a couple of our parmesan-based recipes:
The fruit of an ancient history, dating back to the Middle Ages in southern Italy, we conclude this overview with the taste and refinement of a cheese that has toured the world: Mozzarella. The queen of the table, it is among the most exported and loved Italian cheeses.
With a simple and delicate taste, it is produced with pasteurized cow’s milk to which lactic ferments and rennet are added. White in color, smooth on the outside, typically round in shape, soft and elastic, in order for it to be truly original, you can break it with your hands and it must tear a little whey.
In the kitchen its uses are endless. In addition to being a fundamental topping for pizza, it is eaten in its natural state, dressed with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or in a salad with anchovies and basil. It also accompanies many baked dishes or typical Italian dishes such as melanzane alla parmigiana or mozzarella in carrozza.
Check out below a couple of our mozzarella-based recipes:
Among its DOP cheeses (i.e. “Denominazione di Origine Protetta”, which means Protected Designation of Origin), the Aosta valley boasts the famous Fontina. The history of this cheese dates back to 1200 and concerns the family De Funtina. But there are also other stories that suggest the name comes from the village of Fontinaz, or from the word fontis, referring to how it melts with heat.
Whole cow’s milk from a single milking is used, which is treated with water and salt. Once semi-cooked, the cheese is soft, elastic, and sweet. It can be eaten after 80 days.
It is excellent eaten as it is or melted in a pan, in gnocchi, on steak, or added to soups, stuffings, and salads for extra flavor. It goes very well with a full-bodied red wine.
Gorgonzola is a DOP cheese which has happily crossed national borders, and is a blue cheese par excellence representing Lombardy.
Originating in the city of Gorgonzola, this cheese was first mentioned around the year 1000. Initially, it was produced during the fall, when cows returned tired from the pastures. It got its particular characteristics due to the aging technique. It was placed in natural caves where falling spores created mold.
Today, there are two types. Spicy gorgonzola is made from penicillum roqueforti. It has a very persistent flavor and is instantly recognizable from its aroma of porcini mushroom, fermented herbs, and cooked butter.
Sweet gorgonzola is made from penicillum glaucum. It’s the more famous blue cheese and is softer and more delicate in flavor than the spicy gorgonzola.
Check out below a couple of our gorgonzola-based recipes:
5. Pecorino Romano
In Latium you can find the unmistakable Pecorino Romano DOP, which is also loved internationally. One of the oldest cheeses in Italian history, it was the staple food for the Roman army and is still produced following the same recipe.
It is a hard, cooked cheese, produced with fresh sheep’s milk, and is characterized by a particularly aromatic flavor. It has a cylindrical shape with flat faces and differs from the equally well known Sardinian Pecorino due to its salting. The latter, in fact, has a much shorter aging period, not exceeding 4 months.
Pecorino Romano is the master of the table, easy to digest, with a long shelf life, and can be enjoyed on its own or with broad beans, fruit and honey, but above all, with traditional Roman first courses such as spaghetti alla carbonara or cacio e pepe.
Campania is famous for mozzarella di Bufala. But that’s not all. The region is also famous for the Provolone del Monaco DOP, a spun cheese, so called because of the cloaks worn by those transporting it from mountain dairies to the markets of Naples, their cloaks sheltering them from the night wind at sea.
It is a semi-raw product of cow’s milk. It is an elastic and compact cream-colored cheese with yellow shades and a semi-oval and elongated shape. At medium maturity, it is sweet and buttery. As it ages, it becomes spicier and has a strong flavor, but is always very tasty.
Apulia is known as the region of Burrata, one of the two IGP cheeses of Italy. It is a cheese produced with cow’s milk, obtained from a fusion of cream and mozzarella strips.
It originated due to the genius of Lorenzo Bianchino in the territory of Andria. Legend has it that in 1950, due to heavy snowfall preventing milk from being brought into the city, Bianchino was forced to transform it into cream held in wraps of straccetti, cheese spun as a container.
This is why Burrata has the taste of fresh cream and butter. It is very sweet, pleasant and has no salt. It is a simple cheese, fresh and has an irresistible taste.
If you love Italian desserts, then you’re definitely a big fan of mascarpone. It is a soft cheese produced in Lombardy, primarily in the province of Lodi. Its name comes from the word “mascherpa”, which refers to the cream of milk.
However, another theory is that the word comes from an expression used by a Spanish nobleman who, in the thirteenth century, was so ecstatic about the taste of the cheese, he exclaimed it is “Mas que bueno”, “more than good”.
It is a creamy and dense product, resulting from the process of acidifying cream. Its color varies from snow white to light yellow and it has a sweet and buttery taste. It is an excellent base for traditional desserts, including the very well-known Tiramisù.
9. Puzzone of Moena
This cheese is a symbol of Trentino and is famous for its characteristic strong and intense smell, which is improperly called stinky (puzzone).
Puzzone di Moena DOP is a whole unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese of which there are three types: traditional, aged, and malga. The latter is the most precious since its soft center possesses all the characteristics of the region.
It is a delicate and elastic product, with the taste of fermented herbs. It is so distinctive that it deserves to be eaten on its own, or perhaps with a glass of red wine. It can also be enjoyed in the typical dishes of the region such as polenta or gnocchi, or melted on toast.
In the Asiago Plateau, between the provinces of Veneto and Trentino, the Asiago DOP was created in the year 1000.
Extremely green pastures, fresh and healthy air, pure water, and a mild climate: these fundamental elements make the difference as the cows produce a unique milk.
Asiago is a semi-cooked cow’s milk cheese that can be aged or fresh and has a sweet and soft taste. It is eaten alone or accompanied by a slice of warm bread and glass of white or red wine. It can also be added to risottos and polenta, melted with sausage, or grated on pasta.
This is typical of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and of a part of Veneto, and has a rich flavor that brings together all the history and traditions of the pastures of the Alps.
Production of Montasio is ancient, going back as far as 1200. The Benedictine monks of the valleys of the Carnic and Julian Alps produced the cheese to preserve milk and help reduce food shortages during long, harsh winters.
In time, they refined their techniques and the product, made only from the cow’s milk of the area, acquired a unique and rich taste.
It is a cylindrical-shaped cheese that can be aged in different ways. In the kitchen, it is perfect grated on pasta or asparagus, used for the typical Friulian dish frico, in risottos, in desserts, or combined with dried fruit or pears.
It goes well with dry and aromatic wines.
This is a very old cheese from the province of Cuneo in Piedmont. It has a semi-hard texture, is pretty high in fat, and is slightly blue-veined.
Nutritious and tasty, it is produced with whole or partially skimmed unpasteurized milk, mainly cow’s but with a percentage of sheep’s and/or goat’s milk of medium aging.
Castelmagno has a cylindrical shape with flat sides. The cheese is white and the rind is thin and yellow when young; as it ages, it becomes thicker, wrinkled, and darker in color. It has a fine, delicate flavor when fresh, becoming savory and spicy as it ripens.
It is excellent eaten on its own, spread on toast as an appetizer or aperitif, combined with vegetables, added to soufflés, or for seasoning gnocchi, risottos, tortelloni, and savory pies.
It goes perfectly with a full-bodied red wine, preferably Piedmontese.
This originated in the Orobic Valleys and the alpine pastures, the result of the favorable encounter between humidity, temperature and dexterity. The production area of Bitto DOP includes the province of Sondrio and municipalities of the upper Val Brembana in Lombardy.
It is produced in summer, only in the 12 authorized mountain pastures, from whole unpasteurızed cow’s milk from Bruno Alpina cows. It has a flavor rich in herbaceous aromas and improves with time. A form of Bitto can be preserved for over 10 years. Its name derives from the Celtic word bitu, which meant perennial.
It is recommended you taste it on its own, accompanied by a glass of still, full-bodied red wine.
Originally from the Taleggio Valley, from which it takes its name, between Lecco and Bergamo in Lombardy, Taleggio DOP is a square cheese made of cow’s milk and has a soft crust and a sweet, slightly aromatic taste.
The cheese has been produced since the High Middle Ages, when it was important to preserve excess milk and was stored in the valley’s caves.
The combinations are countless. It melts perfectly, making it suitable for first courses, risottos in particular. It goes very well with pumpkin, radicchio, and mushrooms and is excellent in quiches, flans, and pies. It goes well with polenta and baked pasta and it is perfect for fondue. It is also delicious on its own.
Squacquerone is a fresh, creamy cheese made of pasteurized whole cow’s milk. It is native to Romagna. This excellent cheese is similar to the more common stracchino, which has become well known and loved because it is a fundamental ingredient of a local delicacy: piadina.
White in color, easy to spread, it has rural medieval origins. It is produced all year round; however, only in a few authorized dairies. Its unique and delicate taste expresses all the essence of the region to which it belongs.
Squacquerone derives from the Romagnolo dialect squacquerare (meaning to melt), evidently chosen due to its soft and creamy consistency.
Typical of the Apennines of Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, Raviggiolo is a soft fresh cheese produced with whole cow’s milk. It has a history of almost five hundred years and over that time, it has become an integral part of local culinary traditions.
It comes in a small and circular shape. As it is fresh, it is perishes quickly and should only be kept for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Soft and consistent, it is excellent eaten alone or matched with fresh pasta, savory cakes, or desserts, and maybe with a good still white wine.
17. Formaggio di Fossa
Should you visit the Marches region, you have to taste the Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano DOP, though it is, in reality, shared with Emilia Romagna.
Pits here were used to store food and then to protect the cheese from sieges and epidemics. The peculiar characteristic that makes it famous is therefore the environment in which the maturation process takes place.
Its color varies from white to straw yellow, its taste is initially delicate and sweet and then becomes more spicy and bitter.
Formaggio di Fossa is a passepartout in the kitchen: perfect for many recipes, from appetizers to desserts.
In Molise there is Caciocavallo, which orıgınated at the time of Magna Graecia but is now found throughout the South of Italy. It is a fat cheese, non-skimmed, with different maturations: young, medium, or aged. It has a pear shape with a small head, and hangs from a beam to dry (hence the name).
It is sweet and quite aromatic, and is very eclectic in the kitchen. Raw or cooked, it can be used in any recipe, even those that are very quick. It can be grilled, sliced for salads, combined with vegetables or pan-fried.
The DOP cheese of excellence in Apulia is the Canestrato. It is mainly produced in the provinces of Foggia and Bari, in places ranging from 250 to 700 meters above sea level.
This full fat cheese made with sheep’s milk is a hard cheese of medium or long aging. It has a homogeneous surface but is crossed with streaks left by the rush baskets used to produce it. This technique is also mentioned in the Odyssey when Ulysses meets the giant Polyphemus.
Eclectic in the kitchen, it can be eaten alone or grated over fruit, vegetables, grilled meat, pasta with meat sauce or soups. And, depending on the seasoning, it goes well with more or less full-bodied white wines.
Originating in the South of Italy (especially Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata and Campania), scamorza is a very short seasoning cheese prepared with cow’s and goat’s milk or only cow’s milk.
The name scamorza refers to the work of the dairyworkers who will scamozza (remove) the curd with their hands to give it the characteristic pear shape, with the head choked by a thread of straw.
It is a spun and semi-hard white cheese, dense but elastic at the same time. It can be found fresh with a thin, straw-yellow rind or smoked, brown in color and more compact.
It has a very delicate taste and is excellent for enriching salads, in baked preparations, or sliced and grilled, ideal for filling a large number of dishes, especially the recipes of the national tradition and in particular those of the South.
21. Fiore Sardo
In Sardinia there is Fiore Sardo DOP, a very ancient cheese dating back to the Nuragic period, and is the main cheese of the region. The name derives from pischeddas, the perforated molds made of chestnut wood, used to give it the shape, on the bottom of which was carved a flower.
It is the only DOP sheep’s cheese in which the milk is purely and exclusively unpasteurized. It has a thin, dark-colored crust, while the cheese varies between white and straw yellow.
It is grainy, with a very intense and slightly spicy flavor; it is very digestible and can also be smoked.
Notable Mention – Ricotta
Ricotta is often labeled as cheese outside Italy, but Ricotta is technically not a cheese, but a dairy by-product. It is made from whey —that is, the watery liquid that remains after cow, sheep or goat cheese is made.