Italy is home to the world’s most extensive variety of cheese. Over 2500 different types are in existence today, and in terms of raw production value, Italy is the third-largest producer on a global scale.

Most turophiles, commonly known as cheese lovers consume Italian cheeses such as Mozzarella and Parmesan, but there is a whole undiscovered area of fantastic, classic Italian favorites.

Read on to discover some of the best-kept secrets of Italian cheeses that both beginners and connoisseurs can indulge in.

Most Popular Italian Cheeses - The Proud Italian

For the love of cheese

With so many multifaceted uses and so many different forms and types of cheeses. The word Formaggio means cheese in Italian.

The rich culture and varieties of Italian cheese go back centuries in time. Want to know how cheese was invented? Or who invented it? Well, it’s one of mother nature’s mysteries, but a legend goes that a merchant from Arabia created it, wholly accidental and unintentional!

He put a supply of milk in a satchel made from the stomach of a sheep. As he embarked on his journey, temperatures were scorching. The enzymes contained in the lining of the stomach and the heat of the sun created a magical chemical reaction. 

When he reached his destination for the evening, he opened the pouch and found a fascinating occurrence. He discovered that when he drank the whey (caused by the milk separating), it quenched his thirst, and then he ate the now curd that had formed and found that it satisfied his hunger.

Cheese production in Italy had its origins when Gorgonzola was made in the Po Valley in 876 A.D. Italy also became the cheese-producing hub of Europe in circa the 10th century. 

Gorgonzola, 13 Most Popular Italian Cheeses - The Proud Italian

The world’s most expensive cheese is called Pule and hails from Serbia and comes at a staggering price of $576 per pound. While that takes a while to set in, let us share a secret ingredient! 25 liters of a Balkan Donkey’s milk is required to make 2.2 pounds of cheese! 600 times higher in Vitamin C than cow’s milk, but super expensive? You decide for yourself!

We will unpack the 13 most popular Italian cheeses in this listicle and the three different classifications thereof (soft, semi-soft, and hard). After reading, you won’t be able to contain yourself and will want to hit the local cheese shop by close of business.

Types of soft Italian cheeses

The types of soft cheese that we will be delving into are:

Burrata

This beautifully soft cheese has its origins deeply rooted in the south of Italy, in the murge plateau. It has a creamy and milky-textured explosion in your mouth. Typically, it is a cow’s milk cheese made by using mozzarella and cream.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • As a more luxurious alternative to mozzarella in pizza and pasta dishes.
  • Pairs well with sliced fruit such as peaches and figs on platters.
  • An addition to the perfect indulgent omelet, by adding the burrata a few minutes before serving.
  • Creating the best toasted tramezzino ever!

Figs, basil and cream cheese bruschetta, 13 Most Popular Italian Cheeses - The Proud Italian

Mascarpone

One of the favorite types of white cheese there is on the market.  It comprises a soft, spreadable texture that is best enjoyed fresh. A specialty all the way from the proud Lombardy region in Italy. Also, it is versatile enough in that it can be used for sweet and savory dishes alike.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • A decadent alternative to frosting for cakes and cupcakes.
  • Substitute for making banana bread and muffins that require sour cream.

Mozzarella

A low sodium cheese that can be white and off-white in color, depending on the diet of the Italian buffalo it originated from. It is made by using the pasta filata technique. This method implies that the fresh curd is kneaded in hot water. It comprises high moisture content and is, therefore, best enjoyed a day after being prepared for the best flavor.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • Make your next risotto one for the books by adding mozzarella.
  • Add mozzarella and some of its juice to a blender, add lemon juice and spices to taste and puree until a lump-free, smooth consistency is formed. Use this then as a base for a yummy cheese sauce for veggies.

Risotto with sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella, 13 Most Popular Italian Cheeses - The Proud Italian

Ricotta

This is a whey cheese made from the leftovers of other famous Italian cheeses. The word literally means to be re-cooked. It has a delicately sweet flavor, and the production thereof dates as far back as the Bronze Age.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • Use it as a savory tart base.
  • Add ricotta cheese to pancake dough for fluffy pancakes.

Stracciatella

Stracciatella is a cheese made from Italian buffalo milk and formally produced in the Foggia region in stunning Italy. When it is combined with cream, it makes burrata cheese. It is best not to refrigerate this cheese, as it compromises flavor and is best eaten fresh a few days after it was made.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • You can make gnocchi at home that would make a chef jealous.
  • Can be served as a topping for vegetable fritters.

Vegetable zucchini with stracciatella cheese, 13 Most Popular Italian Cheeses - The Proud Italian

Semi-soft Italian cheeses

This article serves as a tribute to the following semi-soft cheeses:

Fontina

The Fontina cheese taste is that of a buttery-nutty flavor. It is a cow’s milk cheese with a very robust and intense flavor to it. The inside of the cheese is a pale-cream color with “eyes,” otherwise known as holes.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • It melts well into creamy dishes, such as chowder.
  • Makes for a beautiful accompaniment to Turkey meatloaf or terrines.

Gorgonzola

A cheese that has blue veins contained in its layers, which has a biting flavor. It is made from unskimmed cow’s milk and is very salty in its taste. The threads are formed from metal rods being inserted in a plunging manner, creating holes in the cheese where mold spores grow into, forming the blue vein marble patterns.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • Serve as a side to polenta.
  • Use it for a steak topping and serve the dish with port.

Steak with gorgonzola sauce, 13 Most Popular Italian Cheeses - The Proud Italian

Bel Paese

The name of this cheese translates as “beautiful country” in English, and naturally, it is referring to Italy. A more apt name could not be found anywhere. Bel paese cheese is a mild type of cheese. It is made and sold in small discs and is similar to the French Saint-Paulin cheese.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • To be eating as a snack with figs and slices of juicy melon.
  • Use it as a substitute in baked Italian dishes such as cheesecake.

Hard Italian cheeses

We pay homage to the following hard Italian cheeses in this listicle:

Grana Padano

A hard cheese made from Italian dairy cattle. Only raw materials and ingredients are used in the production of this cheese. It is semi-fat in consistency and is cooked and slowly matured for at least nine months.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • Delicious consumed on its own.
  • Serve in a creamy grana padano-base sauce to accompany a dish of veal on the dinner table.

Grana Padano on wooden board and glass of red wine, 13 Most Popular Italian Cheeses - The Proud Italian

Parmigiano Reggiano

Commonly known as parmesan cheese. It has a beautiful sharp fruit, nutty taste, and some variants that can be somewhat bitter, too — one of the most common cheeses in the Italian cheese deli.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • Great to serve with cured venison meats such as Springbok Carpaccio.
  • The essential accompaniment to any Italian pasta dish.

Pecorino

A hard, salty type of cheese made from sheep’s milk. This cheese was an essential staple in the ancient Mediterranean cultures for many years. It was given to the Roman Legionaries as a supplement to the bread and farro soup.

The best ways of enjoying it:

  • You can make popcorn with parmigiano reggiano and pecorino.
  • Conjure an excellent salad for the lunch table due to the saltiness of the cheese.

Pecorino, 13 Most Popular Italian Cheeses - The Proud Italian

The final say

When sampling an Italian cheese for the first time, be on the lookout for cheeses: Denominazione di Origine Protetta, DOP for short. Translated, this implies a form of certification that the product is locally grown and packaged, thus ensuring its authenticity.

For whoever wants to tell you that you are eating too much cheese, get rid of that person…you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life! Grazie per aver letto!