The New Gastronome
7 Italian Cheeses Not to Miss
by Molly Renaldo
by Molly Renaldo
As a cheese lover, there are two kinds of shopping days. Favorites and surprises. It is easy to fall into a routine of knowing your best-loved ones and sticking to them. But on some daring days, there’s the off chance of letting someone shop for us or simply walking up to the cheese counter looking for something different to surprise our knowledge.
Occasionally these unexpected discoveries find their way to becoming favorites and many times they stand as opportunities to simply marvel at the minds of brilliant producers. Here are seven kinds of cheese not to miss on your next day of gastronomic surprises at your favorite Italian cheese provider or the Eataly cheese counter.
1. La Tur
This is a soft-ripened cheese made from the blending of cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk at Caseficio dell’Alta Langa in the Piedmont region. This short cylinder has a soft paste center and is enveloped by a creamy, wrinkled white mold crust. A balanced delicate curd, with sweet notes of butter and cream, develops from slow maturation. Lovely on a piece of warm bread topped with a sweet marmalade for an easy breakfast, or topping an omelet of tomatoes, peppers and onions, it is a simple but flavorful cheese, perfect for a variety of situations.
2. Fossa di Sogliano, DOP
The process to create this complex cheese is long and hard. The secret of the traditional production of Fossa is the seasoning pits. Dug three meters down into sandstone, this tradition dates back to medieval times. The pits are prepared by first burning straw inside to remove moisture and to sterilize against germs that could interfere with the fermentation. They are then lined with ten centimeters of straw and filled with the partially matured cheeses (of sheep’s, cow’s, or a mixture of the two’s milk), in white, cloth bags. The bags are stacked into the pit, covered with more cloths to avoid maximum sweating, and sealed with a wooden lid to season for around 90 days. The particular temperature and humidity conditions account for a strong taste and intense aroma. The buttery, crumbly cheese would be delicious in a wide variety of dishes, grated over Amatriciana, with berries and honey, or as a spin-off chicken Cordon Bleu.
This cheese dates back to the mid-twelfth century and is characterized by its tapering shape, resembling a wedding cake. Although production of this cheese stopped after World War II, the tradition was rediscovered in the late ‘90s by the Cooperative Vallenostra. Today it is produced as a Slow Food Presidium in its historical commune of Terre del Giarolo. Produced according to traditional recipes with a raw milk mixture, commonly 3 parts cow milk to 1 part sheep milk, and a natural rennet. It can be eaten fresh after only 9 or 10 days, or after being aged 30-120 days. The final product is a moist, semi-hard cheese that becomes dry and paste-like in the mouth, with notes of nuts in the bite. Enjoy slightly melted on hearty fresh bread or crumbled onto a watermelon salad.
4. Caciocavallo Podolico Basilicata
Caciocavallo is a southern-Italian staple made in the stretched-curd technique. The curd goes through two cooking sessions to provide elasticity so to be handled without breaking. This variety is made exclusively using milk from the Podolica breed of cows and is a recognized Slow Food Presidia. This breed of cow is known for producing a low yield, but of an extraordinary quality of milk. There were once found all over the country, yet today only 25,000 animals remain. Created from raw milk and calf rennet, it is prepared in the traditional caciocavallo style and aged for 2-3 months, becoming hard and straw-colored. Boasting an incredibly delicate and balanced flavor profile, this cheese is unlike other caciocavallo varieties, and mimicks similar values found in Parmigiano. This would be perfect melted on manicotti or baked ravioli. For a light lunch, try it crumbled over a fig salad.
5. Formaggio allo Zafferano
Hailing from Ragusa, Sicily, this delicate and aromatic sheep cheese is most recognizable for its bright saffron yellow color with dots of black peppercorns. Still produced by hand, the techniques have remained unchanged over time. Made of Sicilian sheep’s milk, the curd is baked, then broken and cut into coarse pieces. It is salted and left to rest for at least 60 days before the saffron and black pepper are added. After about a week, it is dry salted before being left to season for another 1 to 4+ months. According to legend, around the year 1090, this cheese was created to fight depression. Saffron was considered to be an energizing and antidepressant spice, and was added to the regional pecorino. Considering the incredibly powerful spices added, the cheese is surprisingly mild. Traditionally added to pasta with chicken broth, try it melted into an autumn soup of onions, pumpkin or other squash. It could also be used as a Sicilian twist on the American grilled cheese.
6. Formaggio Stagionato nel Fieno
This cheese comes from a small town in the Cuneo province in Northern Italy, however the tradition of seasoning in hay is common with many mountain producers. Historically, this was a simpler and cheaper raw material used by the poor to increase aromas and flavors. The covering preserved the delicate flavors but was found to maintain much of the moisture resulting in a softer cheese. Many producers today respect the tradition, wrapping the wheels in spring hay from mountain pastures to enhance the flavors and fragrances of alpine flowers. From first view, scepticism is easy but the powerful flavors are incredible. An opportunity for creativity to run wild, melt this over a wild game steak like bison or venison, or steam on leaves with veggies for a bit of Italian and Asian cross over.
7. Blu di Bufala
This sweet, creamier version of Gorgonzola is the symbol of the Quattro Portoni dairy. A company that created a buffalo farm in a place it was not expected, the Lombardy region, has won many awards for their cheese, especially their bleus. The short, closed supply chain provides for the highest quality products. Made with 100% buffalo milk and aged 3 months to produce a wrinkled gray crust, the inside is a buttery cream-colored paste with crunchy veins of blue mold. It’s a beautifully mild bleu, that would lend itself well to topping a steak with caramelized onions or in a spinach salad with walnuts, figs, and a sweet balsamic reduction.
Looking at some of the specialities of the Italian cheese counter makes for a day of surprises. Some that you see are steadfast favorites, traditions born generations ago and continuing to serve the market today. Others are interesting, a challenge from a producer looking to create something new. No matter what you choose, the variations show some of the most beautiful passion in the gastronomic world, that of a cheesemaker.
🤟 Shoutout to Eataly, the Univeristy of Gastronomic Scienes’ Strategic Partner, for providing insights and the cheese mentioned in this article.