Asiago Made in the Italian province of Vicenza. There are three types of Asiago: Asiago d'Allevo, which is hard and sharp and primarily used for grating; Asiago Grasso Monte, a medium, tangy cheese, and Asiago Pressato (pictured, left) which is mild and delicate. Asiago loaves are often mistaken for American Cheddar in appearance.
Bel Paese Bel Paese is from the Lombardy region of Italy. It is soft and smooth in texture, and has a light milky aroma. It is matured for 6-8 weeks. The genuine Italian article can be identified by its wrapper, which features an image of a priest (others say it is author Antonio Stoppani) and the map of Italy (U.S. versions show a map of the Americas). The name means "beautiful country," and was inspired by the title of a book by Stoppani.
Fat Content: 45%
Caciotta Caciotta describes a wide range of simple rural cheeses from Italy that can be made with either ewe's, cow's or sheep's milk. They are soft and mild. Caciotta di Pecora (pictured) is a Sardinian ewe's milk cheese.
Canestrato Canestrato, from the south of Italy, has a ridged surface. Milk, with paste rennet, is curdled at 95 degrees F. Once the curd is firm, it is cut, scalded by heating it to 110 degrees F, salted, and then peppercorns are added. There is no set ripening period for this cheese, therefore its taste and consistency vary.
Fontina Sweet and nutty, Fontina has a complex, balanced taste. It has a light yellow paste, a firm texture and a light aroma. Fontina traces back to the 13th Century, and was a favorite of the Duke of Savoy. Its full name is Fontina d'Agosta.
Fat Content: 40%
Gorgonzola Gorgonzola, which has an intricate, complicated method of creation, dates back to the eleventh century. The thick veins are created by adding penicillum glaucum, a mold which is primarily grown in laboratories today. Originally, Gorgonzola was aged in caves, but now it is mass-produced by creating controlled environments. Named after a village in Italy.
Wine Partners: Port, Barbera
Grana Grana is a class of hard grating cheeses from Italy, which were developed in the 13th Century in the Po Valley. One-quarter of Italian milk production goes to making Grana cheese. Grana Padano (pictured) is one version. Most are aged for up to four years, yet they have a smooth texture and "melt in your mouth."
Fat Content: 30-35%
Mascarpone A soft, white fresh cream cheese from the Lombardy region of southern Italy. It is made from cream separated from milk, accounting for its high fat content. The cream is heated to 190 degrees F, citric acid is added, and the curd is stirred. The clumps of curd are drained in hemp cloths for 24 hours. Then, the cheese is beaten and whipped, and packed in tubs.
Wine Partners: Muscadet Fat Content: 50%
Montasio Montasio, from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto regions, was born in approx. 1200, in the valleys of the Giulia and Carnia Alps (mountains) thanks to the intelligence and continuity of the Benedictine monks. The convent is located at Moggio Udinese (on the north side of Mount Montasio) and is probably where the various techniques of production became refined by the herdsmen of the area. Today it is used by the Sisters of Poor Claire (Clarisse).
Fat Content: 34%
Mozzarella The plastic, spun-curd buffalo milk cheese Mozzarella originated from southern Italy. Pasteurized milk is curdled at 90 degrees F, and the curd is cut. Extra time in the vat is allowed so that the curd can sink to the bottom and so that the lactic acids can soften the curd, making it easier to knead. The curd is treated with extremely hot water (200 degrees F), and is kneaded into a shiny lump. Bits of the mass are taken off, cooled, salted, and are soon ready to be marketed.
Wine Partners: Frascati Fat Content: 20%
Pannerone Panera is Italian for "cream," and Pannerone is one of the creamiest cheeses available. Milk is curdled at 89 degrees F, and gently stirred as the curd forms. The stirring releases whey, and also helps the mass to grow firm. The curd drains for 12 hours in cheesecloths, and placed in a heated environment of upwards of 80 degrees F for one week. The temperature is dropped to 50 degrees F for another week, and the cheese is immediately ready for market. Pannerone has a smooth taste with a hint of bitter bite. Sometimes mistaken for Gorgonzola due to its shape; however, Pannerone does not have veins.
Wine Partners: Collio Cabernet
Parmesan (Parmigiano) Named after an area in Italy called Parma, Parmesan is one of the world's most popular and widely-enjoyed cheeses. Milk used for Parmesan is heated and curdled in copper containers, but not before most of the milk's cream has been separated and removed. Curd is cut and then heated to 125 degrees F, all the while stirring the curd to encourage whey runoff. The curd is further cooked at temperatures of up to 131 degrees F, then pressed in cheesecloth-lined molds. After two days, the cheeses are removed and salted in brine for a month, then allowed to mature for up to two years in very humid conditions.
Pecorino Pecorino is the name given to all Italian cheeses made from sheep's milk. Pecorino Romano is the name given to cheeses from the Rome area, Pecorino Sardo is from Sardinia, Pecorino Siciliano from Sicily. These cheeses are generally aged up to a year, and develop a brittle, hard texture and a yellowish rind. Younger cheeses are softer and whiter. Pepato is a variety spiced with peppercorns.
Provolone Provolone is an all-purpose cheese used for cooking, dessert purposes and even grating. Milk is heated to 100 degrees F, and recycled whey (from previous batches) is used as starter culture. Solid rennet is added to produce curd, which is cut into small pieces and and allowed to sink to the bottom before being removed. Hot whey is spooned off, heated to 150 degrees F, and poured on the curd. Cool whey is then added, quickly dropping the temperature (this is the secret for making "string" cheese.) The curd is then kneaded and spun, cooled with water, and salted. During curing, enzymes are released which form a "case" over the cheese surface.
Wine Partners: Dolcetto d'Alba
Ricotta Ricotta is not a cheese per se, but a byproduct of the cheesemaking process. It's primarily made with cow's milk whey, which is heated to 170 degrees F. Citric acid is added to encourage destabilization and separation, and the temperature is quickly raised to 185 degrees F. Proteins from the whey separate, rise and coagulate; the proteins (lactalbumin) are skimmed off and put in a wicker basket to drain for two days, after which the "cheese" is ready for market. Ricotta with coffee mixed in is a rare and expensive delicacy. There are three distinct varieties of ricotta: ricotta salata moliterna (ewe's milk whey), ricotta piemontese (cow's milk whey + 10% milk) and ricotta romana (a byproduct of Romano cheese production).
Wine Partners: Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc
Romano Perhaps Italy's oldest cheese tradition, Romano made near Rome since the time of Christ. It is made by a special method known as "rummaging curd," or draining the curd quickly after molding, then piercing the surfaces slightly before salt is applied. In Europe, Romano is known by its original name, Pecorino-Romano.
Fat Content: 27%
Scamorza The name of this cheese has somewhat macabre overtones: scamozza is an expression in southern Italy which means "beheaded"; it is meant here to describe the cheese's appearance (tied in a rope bag). It is similar to Mozzarella in taste and appearance, but is a bit firmer in consistency.
Fat Content: 25%
Taleggio Buttery, delicate and subtlely sweet cheese from Italy. There is also a cooked-curd version, which is firmer and bears a resemblace to Mozzarella. Taleggio is also known as Stracchino (from the Italian stracche [fatigued]), which referred to the cows of the area after travelling back to the valley from their grazing season in the high pastures.
Wine Partners: Barbaresco
Toscanello Semi-hard cheese with a smooth rind and a whitish paste. A mild or slightly sharp flavor.