If there’s one common theme in Italian cuisine, it’s cheese. Italy is the world’s 3rd-largest producer of cheese (only behind France and Germany), and actually makes the most flavors — clocking in around 2,500 varieties. Think about your favorite Italian dishes…there’s a very high chance they have cheese — pizza, pasta, lasagna, salads and soups; even desserts like tiramisu have mascarpone cheese. But while more than 2,500 varieties exist, we’ve picked our top 4 best Italian cheeses based on taste and application in cooking.
This Italian blue cheese is easily identified by its blue-colored “veins” within the firm white body. These bluish veins are created by bacteria, which are injected into the cheese during the production process and grow via aeration — a process that creates airflow within the gorgonzola. Created with cow’s milk, this cheese is very pungent and has a distinct, sharp flavor (mainly because of the blue bacteria). It’s also fairly versatile and can be found in both firm or crumbly forms, depending on how it is prepared.
Its variations also lend opportunities to create unique pairings. Gorgonzola is particularly tasty when served with fresh fruit, nuts, and veggies.
Asiago cheese comes in two main forms: fresh and aged, which give it vastly different textures. The former tends to be smooth and soft, while the aged version becomes hard and crumbly, making it perfect for grating on soups, salads and pastas.
Fun fact: the most “authentic” form of Asiago is created in the alpine area of the Veneto region and its production methods are very strict. It is made and matured on farms at least 600m above sea level. So if you’ve ever eaten Asiago cheese with the label “Product of the Mountains”, then you know it’s as authentic as you can get.
What kind of list would this be if we didn’t include mozzarella — arguably the most versatile and ubiquitous of all the Italian cheeses? Pizza, mostaccioli, creamy sauces, caprese salad and so much more, this southern Italian cheese is traditionally made from buffalo’s milk and is commonly found in nearly any course of the meal. We tend to think of cheese as being aged; after all, it is mold. But mozzarella is a sort of unique cheese, since it is best enjoyed as soon as it is made, or soon after.
Parmesan (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Parmigiano-Reggiano, otherwise known as Parmesan cheese has got to be one of our favorites simply because of its authoritative presence in so many Italian dishes. The cheese actually gets its name from the largest areas in Italy that produce it: Reggio Emilia, Parma, Bologna, and Mantua. Parmigiano-Reggiano has been referred to as the “King of Cheeses” by food critics, so you’ll find this delicious grated goodness on a myriad foods including pasta, bread, soups, salads and more…but you probably already knew that.
What you may not have known is that there actually is a difference between Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The deciding factor is where the cheese is produced. Yep, that’s it. It’s essentially the same cheese, but if it’s not produced in the regions listed above, it cannot be legally labeled “Parmigiano-Reggiano” under Italian and EU law. It may come as no surprise that Italians take their cheese seriously. The DOC (Denominazione di Origine controllata) laws are set in place to protect the integrity and production processes of traditional Italian foods.
La Buona Vita is a scratch Italian kitchen in La Grange, IL. If you’re looking for a delicious, homecooked (and cheesy!) meal, stop on in or call (708) 352-1621 to make a reservation. We look forward to seeing you!