Spread the word about Italian cheeses!

Italian cheeses are every bit as good as French ones. Listing all of the cheeses in one article is not possible, but I will present some masterpieces.

The famous ones: Parmigiano Reggiano and Mozzarella

I think the two most famous are Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan) and Mozzarella. The former is from Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy, the latter from various regions in the south, while buffalo mozzarella is typical of Campania.

parmesan cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano is probably the most popular hard Italian cheese. It is produced in northern Italy within the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua. Italian law labels as original only the cheese produced in these areas.

Parmigiano Reggiano is a hard cheese with a thick rind. It comes in a big round shape, known in Italian as forma (shape). An average forma weighs between 37 and 40 kilos. The best maturing for this cheese can’t be less than 24 months, but top quality Parmigiano reaches 36 or 40 months.

Parmigiano is usually grated on pasta or other dishes, but in Italy is often eaten as a “table cheese”, thanks to its fruity flavor. You must try it with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, an amazing combination.

Mozzarella salad

Mozzarella is “anema e core” (soul and heart) of Southern Italy. It is produced in various regions with cow’s milk but the best one is definitely buffalo mozzarella, produced from buffalos exclusively bred in Campania. This soft Italian cheese can be round or twisted.

In the supermarkets of southern Italy you can also find “cherries” mozzarella, very little balls perfect to add to salad. Mozzarella is worldwide known as pizza’s topping but can be eaten even in cold dishes such as Caprese salad with tomato, basil leaves and oregano.

From mildly spicy to spicy cheeses: Pecorino and Gorgonzola

Pecorino and gorgonzola are just two of the many spicy Italian cheeses. They can be either mildly or strongly spicy, depending on their maturing, milk used and the procedure to make them.

Pecorino cheese at a stand in Bologna
pecorino cheese

Pecorino is produced in various localities, from the north to the south. It is made with sheep milk (sheep in Italian is pecora) and varies in type from region to region. Five kinds of Pecorino are particularly renown and hold the DOP mark (protected designation of origin) by the EU: pecorino romano, pecorino sardo, fiore sardo, pecorino toscano and pecorino siciliano.

Common features of these cheeses are their white to straw-yellow color, and a nutty-aromatic flavor which becomes more spicy as the cheese matures. Pecorino, as Parmigiano, can be used as a table cheese but also grated on pasta. It is particularly used in spaghetti alla carbonara and spaghetti all’amatriciana. A peculiar kind of pecorino siciliano has black whole peppercorns.

Gorgonzola is typical of two regions in the north of Italy, Lombardy and Piedmont. It is named after the city of Gorgonzola, where its production began in AD 879. Its flavour is similar to the English Blue Stilton. There are two varieties of this cheese, one sweeter and one definitely spicier.


It is made with cow’s milk to which milk enzymes and selected moulds are added. The latter ones give this cheese its characteristic blue veining. It can be soft or hard, and more or less salted, depending on the maturing.

It is frequently eaten on pasta and is used in the famous pizza ai quattro formaggi (four cheeses pizza).

Ricotta, a soft Italian cheese that's not a cheese

Freshly made ricotta

Ricotta is commonly defined as cheese but technically isn’t because is prepared with whey, not curd. It is produced all around Italy, from north to south, with ricotta romana being particularly famous as it is more solid and drier. It can be made with either cow or sheep milk. The latter provides a more savory taste.

Yet ricotta is a sweet cheese which is often used in cakes and desserts, particularly in southern regions. Pastiera napoletana, cannoli siciliani and cassata siciliana are all prepared with ricotta.

Baked ricotta is also popular as a nice savory dish to end your meal.

Less known Italian cheeses: Formaggio di Fossa and Casu Marzu

Not all of Italian cheeses are famous abroad or even across whole Italy. The following are great examples.

Among these there is Formaggio di Fossa (lit. 'cheese from the pit'). It is typical of Romagna, Umbria and Marche regions but according to tradition the original version comes from the little town of Sogliano al Rubicone in Romagna.

Formaggio di fossa in Emilia Romagna
Formaggio di fossa

Formaggio di Fossa is a fat cheese made with either sheep or goat milk, and sometimes even cow. It has a very intense smell, typical of 'woods', and a sweet or spicy flavor.

Its name is due to the farmers’ habit to hide it underground to avoid it being stolen by bandits. This tradition resisted until today, even without bandits. Formaggio di Fossa is let to mature in tophus pits, wrapped in hay for 90 days, from August until the 25th November, when pits are opened and its intense smell is given off.

Slice of casu marzu
casu marzu

Casu Marzu is a very peculiar cheese from Sardinia, made with sheep milk. It also has a strong smell and a very spicy flavor. The peculiarity of this cheese is that the strong smell and flavor are due to special lodgers living inside this cheese: maggots of cheese flies.

Live larvae are deliberately introduced into this cheese during the maturing phase. The acid produced by their digestion makes Casu Marzu softer and therefore easily spreadable on Pane Carasau, the typical Sardinian bread.

I hope you enjoy your next cracker and spread in Sardinia... just don't ask about it.

Return from Italian cheeses to Home Page


Join my FREE Espresso Newsletter for inside news on the best Italian traditional recipes and gourmet products!

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Espresso Newsletter.