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Italian cheeses: a regional guide

Italian cheeses: a regional guide


Italian cheese goes far further than just mozzarella and Parmesan – in fact, they’re about as diverse as the country’s cuisine itself, which can be confusing if you’ve not grown up surrounded by them.

This handy breakdown, courtesy of this year’s Italian issue of Jamie magazine, will help you navigate what’s on offer. Formaggio heaven!

Parmigiano-reggiano

A hard, nutty cheese made from raw cow’s milk and aged for two to three years. By law, only the cheese that is produced in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Modena and southern Mantova can be given this name.

Caciocavallo

This soft, stretched cow’s milk cheese is produced in southern Italy and has a strong, nutty taste. The name means ‘cheese on horseback’, and plays on the traditional technique of these gourd-shaped cheeses being roped together and hung over a wooden beam to age.

Ricotta

Creamy ricotta is made from whey, a by-product of the cheesemaking process, which is then heated – in fact, its name means ‘recooked’. In Calabria, with its culture of food preservation, ricotta is often smoked over wood embers.

Burrata

Its name – ‘buttery’ in Italian – says it all. Hailing from Murgia in southern Puglia, this luxurious parcel of mozzarella cheese has a rich centre of cream with more scraps of mozzarella.

Formaggio di f’ossa

A rich and intense sheep’s milk cheese from Emilia-Romagna, formaggio di fossa is matured for a month before being placed in an underground pit, or ‘fossa’, for up to 100 days.

Mozzarella

While this semi-soft, creamy curd cheese may be made from cow’s milk, traditional Italian methods, protected under EU law, use the milk of the water buffalo. The name comes from the word ‘mozza’, or ‘to cut’, referring to the curd being sliced during the cheesemaking process.

A good mozzarella will make all the difference to a homemade pizza or bruschetta.

Taleggio

This semi-soft, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese has a distinctive, tangy flavour. It has been made in the Lombardy region for centuries, and is named after the Val Taleggio, a lush valley between the provinces of Lecco and Bergamo.

Fontina

Made in the Aosta valley since the 12th century, this semi-soft cow’s milk cheese is most famously used in fonduta (fondue) – a creamy, melted cheese dish served with bread.

Pecorino

The name of this hard, sharp-tasting ewe’s milk cheese comes from ‘pecora’ – the Italian word for sheep. The common ‘romano’ pecorino is made in Lazio, Sardinia and Tuscany, although these and other regions also produce their own unique versions of this cheese.

Gorgonzola

A blue-vein cow’s milk cheese with a strong, punchy flavour, Gorgonzola takes its name from the Milanese town where it has been made for centuries. EU law only allows this cheese to be produced in a handful of Italian provinces.

This guide comes from the current issue of Jamie magazine, which is out now – pick up a copy for some gorgeous recipes using all these cheeses, like these irresistible arancini.


Italian Cheese Guide

Cheeses from Italy have found their place in the hearts of foodies all over the world. There are hundreds of cheeses in Italy, made virtually everywhere – from the alpine meadows of the north to the picturesque rolling hills of Tuscany to Sicily’s romantic plains. Parmigiano, Mozzarella, and Provolone only scratch the surface of Italian dairy. Cured and soft, intensely fragrant and mild, ideal for shredding or perfect for spreading, made with cow, goat, sheep, or buffalo milk, there are countless cheese varieties in Italy. Each region offers its specialties and spins on the classics. The “Slow Food” Movement runs a spectacular Bi-Annual Cheese fair in the Piemonte town of Bra, and this is Cheese Mecca! Quality is of the utmost importance to Italian cheese producers, and there are cheese “conzorzios,” quality control boards (similar to wine and olive oil) for each type. There are two quality classifications for Italian Cheese- DOP (Denominazione Di Origine Protetta, i.e., Protected Designation of Origin), and IGT (Indicazione Geografica Protetta, i.e., Protected Geographic Indication, same quality control also used for wine) so if you see these labels on the cheese it signifies the maximum in quality assurance.

While it would be impossible to cover all of Italy’s amazing cheeses, here is a look at some you are likely to encounter on your gourmet tour of Italy, along with other more classic gems.


Benvenuti Amici.

Hello and welcome to italiancookingandliving.com! This website is your gateway to authentic Italian cooking and living. We will take you on an exhilarating adventure and leave you wanting for more! Italians have an undying passion for the good life (La Dolce Vita)! This reflects in every aspect of their behaviour. They wear our hearts on our sleeves and take immense pleasure in even the simplest gifts of Mother Nature. Italian food, Italian cars and Italian fashion have made a name for themselves all over the planet. There is hardly a town on this planet where people do no enjoy a delectable slice of pizza or hardly a kid in the world who does not aspire to drive a Ferrari. However, Italian cooking has a lot more to it than just pizza and pasta. This website will help you to look past the stereotypes and appreciate the sumptuous depth Italian cooking and living. Italians live well into their eighties. The country has an average life expectancy of an incredible 83 years – among the highest in the world. Why do Italians live so long? What is the secret behind their longevity? Honestly, there is no secret. Italians live long because Italian cuisine is healthy and tastes absolutely heavenly due to the use of natural ingredients. Italians are very close to the earth. Even today, most Italians shop for foodstuff at farmers’ markets. Thus, even though Italian food may seem unhealthy because of its well-known affinity with cheeses, cured meats, wines and flour it is actually among the most nutritious cuisines in the world. Surely, you have heard about the Mediterranean diet? Many doctors share the view that this diet aids in detoxification and weight loss. Well, Italian foods are very similar to those included in the Mediterranean diet! Do you want to be able to indulge yourself without guilt? Then stick around and learn all there is to know about Italian cooking. You will notice that many Americanised versions of Italian dishes are literally overflowing with cheese. While it is true that Italian recipes do include cheeses – these are mostly hard cheeses and a small quantity adds tons of flavor. You can counteract the negative effects of cheeses and desserts by adding ginseng to your diet. There are innumerable benefits of ginseng – it is an adaptogen and helps to maintain hormonal balance within the body. The stars of Italian cooking include superfoods such as tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, parsley, basil and other herbs. Olive oil helps to reduce levels of the harmful (LDL) type of cholesterol and promotes heart health. Cooked tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which slows down aging and has cancer-fighting properties. Clinical studies suggest that garlic is great for the heart – even if not so much for breath! Greens like parsley and basil are packed with vitamins and essential minerals. Even red wine, which Italians enjoy regularly, is good for the heart – owing to a component known as resveratrol. Hopefully, now you see the benefits of enjoying authentic Italian food. The superfoods list also includes fennel, seasonal fruits and a variety of fish and seafood. After all, this is a country with a 7,600 km (4750 miles) long coastline! At italiancookingandliving.com, you will embark upon an amazing gastronomical and cultural journey that will help you fall in love with life all over again! Pronto!


The Cuisine of the Piedmont Region

Of Italy's regional cuisines, the Piemonte (Piedmont) is one of the most multifaceted. The region was ruled by the future Kings of Italy, who enjoyed extremely refined dishes at court. A meal at a good Piemontese restaurant today typically begins with a long series of antipasti, which may include chopped raw beef with shaved white truffles (in season), creamy cheese tarts, vegetable flan, and a delicate salad. These may be followed by agnolotti, stuffed pasta seasoned with the drippings from a roast, or risotto (arborio rice is Piemontese), or tajarin—egg pasta seasoned with meat sauce or butter and shaved truffles—followed by a rich main course along the lines of brasato al Barolo, a pot roast-styled dish of beef braised in Barolo wine.

Desserts are equally elegant, such as panna cotta or hazelnut cake. With your coffee, you may have gianduiotti, creamy candies made from a chocolate-hazelnut paste, a specialty of Turin's chocolatiers.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is a rich tradition with much simpler, peasant-style dishes, including the extraordinarily garlicky bagna cauda, ravioli in Barbera wine (in the province of Alessandria), and bollito misto, a selection of boiled meats and vegetables for which Piemonte's crown princes were known to sneak out of court.

To bring it all together, Piemonte boasts some of the world's finest wines, including Gavi, Dolcetto, Barbera, Barbaresco, and Barolo.


Mozzarella recipes

Mozzarella is a fresh white cheese originating from the region of Campania in Italy. It is classed as a pasta filata (spun paste) cheese and has a soft, creamy texture which holds its shape when raw but melts particularly enticingly when cooked. Unlike most cheeses, mozzarella it is not aged and is best eaten fresh. Traditionally the cheese is made from water buffalo milk, but cow’s milk is now widely used as a substitute, although true Campanian buffalo mozzarella – Mozzarella di Bufala Campana – is now safeguarded under the European Union’s protected designation of origin (PDO) laws.

Mozzarella is a wonderfully versatile ingredient and its pure white colour makes it a striking addition to a finished dish. The cheese can be used in a wide variety of starters, mains and, as Rosanna Marziale’s beautiful Mozzarella cheesecake with berry sauce demonstrates, even desserts! Looking for an easy starter with stunning results? The classic combination of tomatoes and mozzarella is showcased superbly by Giorgio and Gian Pietro’s recipe for Raw beef with tomatoes and mozzarella, the success of which relies on the quality and simplicity of the ingredients.


Italian Regional Food: the North

Italian Regional Food: Risotto with wild mushrooms

First-time travelers to Italy may be surprised to find such a culinary diversity from region to region.

Unlike your typical Italian restaurant in the States, Italian food has much more variety than spaghetti and meatballs or eggplant parmesan. Even though you can find Italian specialties like pizza and tortellini all over Italy, it is well worth sampling the local dishes for a bit of authenticity. Every region has its own cheeses, wines and sometimes even vegetables.

When eating foods grown or raised in the surrounding countryside and complemented with the local wine, both your traveling and eating experiences are taken to a whole new level. The pride Italians have in their locally-grown produce, regional specialties and exceptional wines is something you cannot find in a supermarket.

Italian Regional Specialties: The North

Northern Italian cuisine is characterized by a lesser use of olive oil, pasta and tomato sauce and a heavier reliance on butter (or lard), rice, corn (for polenta) and cheeses for cream sauces. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules such as the renowned olive oils of Liguria and the Lakes region, which figure greatly in the cuisines of these areas.

Pasta in the north is by no means non-existent, but it does have to share time with delicious risotto and polenta. Northern Italian main courses often reflect people’s pride in their unspoiled countryside, and are likely to include some sort of game or wild fowl such as rabbit, quail or grouse.

Seafood and shellfish are very popular on the coast, and rivers and streams provide carp and trout. Of course, the overall rule is “if it grows or lives well in the area, then it can make it onto the table”.

Val d’Aosta

The region produces fontina cheese, which is used in local specialties like Cotoletta alla Valdostana – a veal chop covered in fontina and ham. Capriolo alla Valdostana is a hearty venison stew made with wine, vegetables and grappa.

The rocky crags of the Alps help make Aostan wines unique and the region is home to the DOC recognized Reds Donnas, Chambave Rosso and Nus Rosso. Whites include the simply named and crisp Bianco and the Blanc de Morgex with its hints of alpine meadows. Val d’Aosta is also home to the dessert wine Nus-Malvoisie Fletri as well as locally made Grappa.

Piemonte

Piemonte is the home of fonduta, a melted cheese dip made of milk, eggs and white truffles (tartufi bianchi). Fine cheeses include robiola, sheep cheese (tuma, in dialect) and tumin, a white mountain cheese soaked in red pepper and olive oil sauce. Cardi alla Bagna Cauda is a dish of locally grown chard served with a warm sauce of anchovies, garlic and olive oil. Other regional dishes include local game such as rabbit, and boiled meat dishes like Vitello tonnato (thinly sliced veal with a sauce of boiled egg yolk, tuna and capers) and ox tail. Grissini are thin and crispy breadsticks that have become popular throughout the country and the world. Piemonte is also home to two types of wild mushrooms prized the world over: porcini mushrooms and white truffles.

Italian Regional Food: Cheese fonduta. Ph. depositphoto.com/silkenphotos

When it comes to wines, Piemonte is second to none: it is the home of Asti white wines, including Moscato and sparkling Asti Spumante. The region is also home to full-bodied reds such as Barbera, Barolo, Barberesco and Dolcetto.

Lombardia

This region is known for its rice dishes including Minestrone alla Milanese, made with vegetables, rice and bacon. Risotto alla Milanese is a creamy dish of braised short-grain rice blended with meat stock, saffron and cheese. Other favorites include ravioli with a pumpkin filling from Mantova, and small quails with polenta from Bergamo. Osso buco is a traditional main course of veal knuckle – with the marrowbone intact – braised with rosemary and sage. The excellent cheeses of the region include the rich blue gorgonzola, grana padano (a rival of parmigiano-reggiano), the alpine bitto, the creamy crescenza and the gluttonous mascarpone.

Italian Regional Food: Stuffing ravioli with pumpkin. Ph. depositphotos/zaziedanslacuisine

Lombardia wines mostly hail from the Valtellina area, known for its well-aged reds that include Valtellina Superiore, Lombardy’s best. Franciacorta is home to sparkling white wines in the tradition of the champagnes of France, but with a truly Italian character.

Veneto

Veneto cuisine incorporates polenta and rice in its dishes, along with wild fowl, mushrooms, or seafood. Traditional courses include Risi e Bisi (rice and peas), and fegato alla Veneziana (calf’s liver fried with onions). Seafood ranging from prawns, shrimp and clams to fresh fish and eels, play an important part in the local diet, and is proudly displayed in markets and restaurants. Wild game such as rabbit, duck, pigeon and guinea fowl are found in the protected marshes of the Venetian Lagoon and are a favorite element of Veneto’s cooking. Radicchio di Treviso is a bitter red chicory served as a salad, but more often grilled and served with salt and olive oil. Asparagi di Bassano are white asparagus, usually boiled and served with vinaigrette or eggs. Asiago is the best and most popular cheese that comes from Veneto. Pandoro, a star-shaped cake delicately flavored with orange-flower is a specialty of Verona and it is typical of Christmas, when it is consumed throughout the country.

Venetian risi e bisi

The region is known for some of Italy’s most famous reds such as Valpolicella and Bardolino. Whites include Soave, Gambellara, Bianco di Custoza and Vigne Alte.

Italian Regional Food: Rabbit with mushrooms and polenta. Ph. depositphotos/Isantilli

Trentino-Alto Adige

This region shares culinary traditions of Italian and German origins. Canederli made with bread, milk and butter and served in a broth, is just one of several types of gnocchi (dumplings) popular in Trentino-Alto Adige. Polenta is very popular around Trentino along with wild fowl, river trout and Germanic sauerkraut. Speck is a salumi style cured meat that is similar to prosciutto, but is smoked, and has become available throughout Italy. The most popular cheeses include fresh Tosela, Spressa delle Giudicarie (DOP) and Puzzone di Moena.

Canederli. Ph. Michela Simoncini on flickr (flic.kr/p/aZS7vi)

Red wines include the full-bodied Marzemino and the fruity Teroldego. White wines excel in this pre-alpine climate and include Nosiola, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, the Spumante Talento Trento and the traditional sweet dessert wine Vin Santo.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

The region is known for its vast cornfields, which feed the areas demand for polenta. Prosciutto di San Daniele is a sweet cured ham that is hung to absorb fresh mountain air and is considered one of the best prosciuttos of Italy. Montasio is an aged, hard cheese sold at different levels of maturity. The cuisine of the Venezia Giulia portion or the region, especially around Trieste, reflects German/Slavic traditions, too. Jota is a soup made of beans, potatoes and white cabbage Porcina is a mix of boiled pork with sauerkraut, mustard and horseradish. Slavic goulash and dumplings are also local favorites. The coastal areas love their seafood including cuttlefish (seppia), mixed fried fish and Boreto Graesano, a fish and white polenta soup. Regional desserts have a Germanic touch: favorites are apple strudel, Cuguluf (a ring cake) and Gubana (made from dried fruit and raisins).

Friulan wines are well known, with Ramandolo being protected by a DOCG designation. Other reds include Refosco dal Peduncolo and Schiopettino. Friuli is best known for its whites, with the very popular Tocai, Malvasia Istriana, and Ribolla Gialla topping the list. Vitoska is a white wine served as an aperitivo and Picolit is a white dessert wine.

Liguria

The most famous of all culinary masterpieces from Liguria is its basil pesto sauce, served with either trofie (favored in Cinque Terre) or trenette (favored in Genoa). The olive oil of the region is an exception to most of Northern Italian cooking and plays an everyday role along the rocky coast of the area. Seafood has a large role in the local diet, with fresh caught anchovies being a favorite as well as swordfish, tuna, sardines and sea bass. Zuppa di datteri is a shellfish soup made in the port of La Spezia. Popular meat dishes include tomaselle (Veal rolls) and coniglio in umido (Rabbit stew). Ligurian desserts include pandolce genovese, a sweet bread made with candied fruit, raisins and nuts, and sweet pizzas made with walnuts, chestnuts and candied fruit.

Italian Regional Food: Fresh pesto, made with pine-nuts, basil, olive oil and garlic

Red wines include Rossese di Dolceacqua, Ormeasco, and the dessert wine Sciacchetrà Rosso. The white wines of Liguria are ideal for seafood and include Cinque Terre, Sciacchetrà and Colline di Levanto. Spirits range from Grappa and the citrus based Limoncello Ligure, to walnut-infused Nocino.


This is a washed-rind cheese, meaning it&aposs bathed in brine during aging in the case of Taleggio, the process takes place in caves of Italy&aposs Lombardy region. The result is a pungent exterior that imparts salty, nutty, and pleasantly doughy notes. Any washed-rind cheese can be substituted for it: Look for the orange rind, and expect (some might say look forward to!) a little bit of stink.

Several cheeses in the spirit of the famed French reblochon -- known for its buttery heft and fruity pungency -- are available stateside. One of our favorites is the French Preferes des Montagnes it works beautifully in the hearty and traditional dish known as tartiflette. Italian Robiola Bosina, with its puddinglike texture, is another good substitute. And a readily available Brie would be excellent in this dish too -- especially if you prefer a milder result.


Spicy Octopus, Molise Style

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 sprigs Italian parsley, minced
  • 2 teaspoons peperoncini, or more to taste
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds young octopus
  • Salt

Clean the octopus in salted water and rinse well.

Heat half the oil in a medium skillet with a cover over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, parsley and peperoncini and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the octopus to the onion mixture with the remaining oil. Season lightly with salt.

Cover the pan with a lid and cook over very low heat for 2 hours, stirring the octopus from time to time with a wooden spoon. Serve as an appetizer.


The Regions, Part 1 of 3

Piemonte

Valle D'Aosta

Lombardia

Lombardia (Lombardy), home to Italy's second largest city, fashionable Milano, is historically a trendsetter in its food as well as design sensibilities. Once ruled by the Spanish, Milan's iconic saffron-infused risotto is perfection in its simplicity and classically paired with Ossobuco, braised veal shanks garnished with a gremolata herb condiment. Lombardy boasts many varieties of cheeses that range from very soft and creamy to the long aged and hard grating variety. Soft spreadable Crescenza and Stracchino are a tasty contrast to mighty Mascarpone, most famously known for its starring role in the perennially popular Tiramisu, found almost everywhere in Italy. Bitto cheese is a long-maturing cheese that can age up to 10 years while Grana Padana is a kissing cousin to Parmigiano Reggiano with its own loyal fans. Bresaola, a cured lean beef from the Valtellina valley makes a delightfully refreshing salad, when the thin meat slices are topped with rucola/arugula greens, parmesan shavings and dressed with a squeeze of lemon and extra virgin olive oil. Make sure to enjoy a Valtellina Superiore DOCG produced from the nebbiolo grapes which are less acidic and tannic than neighboring Piemonte's nebbiolos. Panettone, a light egg rich cake spiked with candied citrus, is Lombardia's most famous dessert. It is the quintessential Italian Christmas cake made and enjoyed everywhere in Italy. Delicious served with the slightly sparkling and prestigious Franciacorta wine.

Trentino-Alto Aldige

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Veneto

The Veneto is home to two of the most romantic cities of Italy: Venice, with its maze of canals, and Verona, Shakespeare's setting for the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. The Veneto reflects its watery ways with a passion for seafood dishes and risottos, Baccala' al latte, cod cooked in milk or Sepia, cuttlefish with its signature black ink in risotto and pasta. For the less adventuresome diners there is always the classic Risi e Bisi, rice and peas. Many colorful varieties of radicchio are the mainstay of winter greens throughout Italy, although Treviso's famously curled, spear-shaped heads are oftentimes enjoyed grilled. Flavorful Asiago and Monte Veronese are just two Veneto cheeses to try. You'll certainly not go wrong with any of the Vento's well known wines like Pinot Grigio, Valpolicella, and Amarone. You might try pairing a Prosecco with Zaleti, a traditional Veneto cookie made of cornmeal, pine nuts and raisin, for a light treat.

I will begin the next portion of my Italian Regional Culinary Guide with Liguria and Emilia Romagna as they are also part of the north and begin the transition to the central portion of Italy.

Marla Gulley Roncaglia is an American expat living in the Italian Alps. Marla is an accomplished pastry chef, and a master at high-altitude baking. She and her husband Fabrizio (who has also worked as a chef) teach Italian cooking classes and run a bed and breakfast named Bella Baita ("beautiful mountain house"), where they are active supporters of the slow food movement.


Guide to the Traditional Italian Meal Structure

With Italian meals, there is a specific structure cultivated over centuries of eating that is a master class in how to best enjoy food and company. Not all dinner meals – known as cena – consist of all of these courses often times, the numerous courses are reserved for festivities or celebratory occasions. At Cucina Toscana, we structure our menu to closely resemble the courses of a traditional Italian meal. We hope this guide whets your appetite for dinner.

Aperitivo


The aperitivo begins the meal. Like the French aperitif, this course may consist of bubbly beverages such as spumante, prosecco, or champagne, or wine. The aperitivo is also the appetizer course small dishes of olives, nuts or cheeses may be available for diners to nibble on while they wait for the next course.

Antipasti


This course is commonly considered the “starter.” The antipasti dish will be slighter heavier than the aperitivo. Often times, the antipasti may consist of a charcuterie platter such as salame, mortadella, or prosciutto, served with cheeses and bread other times, you may find a cold salmon or tuna antipasto, or a bruschetta.

Primi


Primi is the first course to contain hot food and is often heavier than antipasti dishes. Generally, primi dishes do not consist of any meat. At the same time, primi dishes may contain fine and luxurious ingredients, such as truffle or seafood. Risotto, gnocchi, soup, lasagne, pasta, or broth are all common primi dishes.

Secondi


In this course, you will encounter different meat and seafood options. Depending on the region, you may have chicken, beef, pork, lamb, or turkey prepared in a variety of different ways, from a sausage to a roast to a grilled meat. In terms of seafood, you might find fish, shrimp, lobster, or some other kind of “meaty” seafood. If there are two dishes in the secondi, a sorbet palate cleanser is served between them.

Contorni


Contorni dishes are served alongside secondi dishes. Common cotorni dishes are vegetable-based, whether raw or cooked. They are served on a different plate than the meat or seafood of the secondi, so as to not mix on a plate and allow for the preservation of the integrity of flavors.

Insalata


If there are many leafy green vegetables in the contorni, an insalata, or salad, might not be served. If not, then a salad will follow the secondi.

Formaggi e frutta


Now, as we near the end of the meal, there is an entire course dedicated to cheese and fruit. A selection of regional cheese will be presented, with seasonal fruits that complement the flavors of the cheese.

Dolce


Dessert! Options range from tiramisu to cake or pie to panna cotta. You may also consider a sorbetto or gelato for something lighter and more palate-cleansing. Certain regional specialty desserts such as zeppole or cannoli may be served.

Caffe


A strong espresso is served after dolce, often served very warm and without any milk or sugar.

Digestivo


To close out this intricate, decadent Italian meal, the final item is a digestive alcoholic drink, such as limoncello, amaro, or grappa, which aids with digestion.

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Salt Lake City, UT 84101
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