Italian Cheeses

Keep some or all of these cheeses in your refrigerator so you’re ready when inspiration strikes.

Tomatoes

In Italy, cheeses are served before meals, after meals, and as an accompaniment to fine wines. They are also essential ingredients in many Italian recipes. Italian cheeses may be made from whole milk, sheep or goat milk and even buffalo milk.

Caciocavello

Means “cheese on horseback." One theory is that the cheeses, which are tied in pairs and hung over poles to cure, look as though they were hung over a saddle. If this cheese is to be eaten straight, it is matured for two to four months. If it is to be used for grating and cooking, it needs to be aged for up to 12 months. When young, the cheese is mild and delicate. When it has aged, it becomes a piquant spicy grating cheese. It keeps and travels well.

Fiore Sardo

Also known as Pecorino Sardo, this cheese comes from Sardinia, and is used mostly for grating. It is made from sheep's milk and has a fat content of about 45%. It comes in small, cylindrical wheels with convex rims about 8 inches in diameter and almost 6 inches high. It has a delicate, nutty flavor when young, and develops a much sharper taste as it ages.

Fontina

A firm, whole milk, slicing cheese from Piedmont's Val d'Aosta, a mountainous area just south of Switzerland. This is one of the most delicious Italian cheeses. Fontina resembles Swiss gruyere and has a light brown crust and comes in large wheels just like Swiss cheese, but it doesn't have the network of holes. Fontina is made from cow's milk and is delicate, fruity and mild.

Mascarpone

A soft, white, delicate cream cheese from the Lombardy region of Southern Italy. This cheese has a creamy ricotta-like consistency. It is supple and spreadable, and is often added to Italian desserts. It may be mixed with sugar, coffee, cognac, or chartreuse, and is freshest in the autumn and winter.

Montasio

This hard cheese is made from whole milk. After two to five months of aging, it can be used as an eating cheese. The color is naturally light and straw yellow. After 12 months, the cheese is slightly crumbly and used mainly for grating. It has a pleasant and piquant flavor.

Mozzarella

This pure white, soft, smooth, moist cheese is made in Campania from buffalo milk. It is shaped into small pears or ovals and weighs 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds. Mozzarella has a mild, creamy, delicate and slightly sweet flavor and is one of the most popular cheeses used in Italian cooking. When it is smoked, it is called Mozzarella di Bufala Affumicata or Provola di Bufala Affumicata.

Parmigiano-Reggiano

One of the finest cheeses in the world, Parmesan has been made in Italy for more than 700 years. It comes from a small area of the country comprising Parma. There is a strict production code, preserving a centuries-old tradition that allows no additives, no antifermentatives, no substances other than milk and rennet, and requires that each wheel of cheese be constantly monitored for its 18-month maturation period.

Pecorino Romano

A hard sheep's milk cheese with a dark brown rind. The cheese itself ranges from white to straw yellow. With at least eight months of aging, Pecorino Romano has a characteristic piquant flavor. Often, Romano is less expensive than Parmesan, but it does have more of a bite. It is best used as a grating cheese on pasta.

Ricotta

This traditional mild cottage cheese is an important ingredient in much of Italy's cooking. It is a basin-shaped cheese, pure white and wet, yet not sticky. Ricotta is traditionally used as a filling for ravioli and many lasagna and cannelloni dishes. It can also be used for sweet dishes.

Scamorze

Somewhat similar to Provolone, this cheese has an interesting gourd shape with a narrow neck, and is tied with a cord with 4 little loops on top. It is mostly seen hanging in Italian groceries and delis. Scamorze has a delicate nutty flavor and a glossy, golden yellow skin. It is traditionally eaten at the end of a meal.