ASIAGO d'ALLEVO: This was originally ewe's milk cheese made in the foothills of the Dolomites although now it is made almost entirely from cow's milk in the provinces of Vincenza and Trento and parts of Padua and Treviso. Asiago is a pressed cooked cheese that produces a firm,strong table cheese after two to six months. Cheeses ripened for longer are used purely for grating and Asiago d'Allevo is renowned as an extra strong cheese. The protein content is 33%; fat/dry matter content, 34%. Calories per 4 oz. The name Asiago was previously classified as a trade name, in December 1978 was recognized as a name of origin. Asiago Pressato is similar to d'Allevo but is a milder cheese, ripened for twenty to forty days and used almost exclusively as a table cheese.
BEL PAESE: This unpressed, cooked and ripened cheese was created by Egidio Galbani in 1906 and made at Melzo in Lombardy. It is one of the most popular cheeses of this century and is creamy white or pale yellow, soft, buttery and elastic, without holes but with a pleasant, tangy flavor. The name means beautiful country. Bel Paese is matured for about 50 days and contains 48%-50% fat in dry matter
BURRINI: This is a specialty cheese from the very south of Italy, the regions of Puglia and Calabria in particular. Small, pear shaped cheeses of mild and distinctive flavor are carefully molded around a pat of sweet butter, which later will be spread on bread and eaten with the cheese. These cheeses are ripened for just afew weeks and for export are usually dipped in wax or specially packaged. This cheese is also sometimes called Butirri, Burielli or Provole.
CACETTI: These small cheeses are very similar to Burrini but without the heart of butter. They are spun curd cheeses, dipped in wax and hung by raffia strands to ripen for about ten days.
CACIOCAVALLO: caciocavallo cheese [kah-choh-kuh-VAH-loh] From southern Italy, caciocavallo (meaning "cheese on horseback") is said to date back to the 14th century, and believed by some to have originally been made from mare's milk. Today's caciocavallo comes from cow's milk and has a mild, slightly salty flavor and firm, smooth texture when young (about 2 months). As it ages, the flavor becomes more pungent and the texture more granular, making it ideal for grating. Caciocavallo is one of the pasta filata types of cheeses (like PROVOLONE and MOZZARELLA), which means it has been stretched and shaped by hand. It may be purchased plain or smoked and comes in string-tied gourd or spindle shapes.
CRESCENZA: [krih-SHEHN-zuh] A rich, creamy, fresh cheese, also known as Crescenza Stracchino , that's widely made in Italy's regions of Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto. Its texture and flavor are similiar to that of a mild CREAM CHEESE, and it becomes very soft and spreadable at room temperature. Crescenza is made from uncooked cow's milk and is sometimes blended with herbs. It doesn't age well and, although not widely imported, can be found in some specialty cheese shops.
CURD: 1. When it coagulates, milk separates into a semisolid portion (curd) and a watery liquid (WHEY). CHEESE is made from the curd. 2. A creamy mixture made from juice (usually lemon, lime or orange), sugar, butter and egg yolks. The ingredients are cooked cool, the lemon (or lime or orange) curd becomes thick enough to spread and is used as a topping for breads and other baked goods. Various flavors of curd are available commercially in gourmet markets and some supermarkets.
DOLCELATTE: This is a smooth, creamy blue cheese, milder than gorgonzola, and a registered trade name meaning "sweet milk". It is a semi-soft cheese with 50% fat in dry matter, made from cows milk and matured for about forty days
FONTINA: A very poular Italian cheese, genuine fontina comes from the Valle d'Aosta in the most north west corner of Italy and plays an important part in the cuisine of that area. It is made from the full cream milk of once milked cows with acidity produced by natural fermentation. The cheese is medium hard although its flesh is soft and melts easily. It is straw colored with a mild delicate flavor. It is rippened for about three months and each cheese is marked with a picture of the Matterhorn (which majestically marks the borders of Italy and switzerland). Fontina has a 45% fat/dry matter content and 347 calories per 4 oz. serving.
GORGONZOLA: This is another exceptional product from the Po valley and is said to be even older than Grana cheese. It is named after the town where it is believed to have originated but is no longer made, not far from Milan. It is produced now at both local and mass production level in provinces of Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Cuneo, Milan, Novara, Pavia, Vercelli and the area of Casale Monferrato. A protected cheese, it is produced all the year round and is Italy's major blue veined variety. It has a strong flavor from it's compact, creamy texture and is white or straw colored with green flecks and veins. Gorgonzola is a soft, high fat, unboiled cheese produced from cows milk. 48% fat/dry matter content.
GRANA: Two of Italies most widely acclaimed cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, belong to the Grana (granular) group of cheeses, those finely-grained hard cheeses which originated in the Po Valley to the north of the country. These areas argued for centuries about who should carry the name "Grana", and in 1955 the names "Grana Padano" and "Parmigiano Reggiano" were given legal protection and the characteristics and areas of production of each were precisely delineated. They are basically very similar cheeses although of the two, Grana Padano matures marginally faster.
GRUVIERA: Gruviera cheese; Groviera [groo-vee-YEHR-uh] This Italian version of the Swiss GRUYERE has a sweet, nutlike flavor that is very like the original. It can be used in any manner suitable for Gruyere.
PARMIGIANO REGGIANO: this undisputed king of Italian cheese is believed to have originated in the provence of Reggio Emilia south of the Po Valley. The area was formerly under the rule of the Dukedom of Parma which was the main trading center, hense it's name. It was called the great cheese of seven countries because the ancient formula remained unchanged throughout 700 years of history in which the area was under the rule of seven different countries. Records dating back to AD 1200-1300 describe the characteristics of Parmigiano Reggiano as they are today and it is assumed that the real origins of the cheese go back even further to the fine cheeses extolled by early Latin writers. It is produced from the first of April to the eleventh of November in large drums anywhere from 50-100 lbs. It is made with the unpasteurized but tested milk of morning and evening milkings in it's "zona tipica" of Bologna, Mantua, Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia where the soil, climate, vegetation, fodder and cattle rearing traditions have influenced its flavor and quality over the centuries
GRANA PADANO: is very similar to Parmigiano Reggiano but ripens more quickly and is left to mature for a year or two, being sold at varying degrees of maturity. Its history is as old as Parmesan and it also is a pressed, cooked cheese from the partly skimmed milk of two milkings. Unlike Parmesan, Grana Padano is made throughout the year in the following regions: Cremona, Mantua (on the opposite bank of the Po to Parmesan production), Piacenza, Brescia, Bergamo, Pavia, Alessandria, Asti, Cuneo, Novara, Turin, Vercelli, Como, Milan, Sondrio, Varese, Trento, Padua, Rovigo, Treviso, Venice, Verona, Bologna (on the opposite bank of the river Reno to Parmesan production), Ferrara, Forli and Ravenna.
MASCARPONE: a cows milk cheese that must be eaten very fresh, mascarpone is a delicious creamy dessert cheese, a bit like whipped butter of stiffly whipped cream. It is often sweetened slightly and served with fresh fruit and liquers. Originally made only in Lombardy in the autumn and winter but now available all the year round and is usually sold in muslin bags or tubs.
MOZZARELLA: mozzarella cheese [maht-suh-REHL-lah; moht-suh-REHL-lah] Hailing from Italy, mozzarella is a mild, white fresh cheese that's made by the special PASTA FILATA process, whereby the CURD is dipped into hot WHEY, then stretched and kneaded to the desired consistency. At one time, mozzarella was made only from the milk of water buffaloes. Today, however, the majority of it is made with cow's milk. Mozzarella comes in two basic styles. Most regular mozzarella, which can be found in lowfat and nonfat forms in supermarkets, is factory produced. It has a semisoft, elastic texture and is drier and not as delicately flavored as its fresher counterpart. This style of mozzarella is best used for cooking and is popular for pizza because of its excellent melting qualities. Fresh mozzarella, which is usually packaged in whey or water, is often labeled "Italian style." It's generally made from whole milk and has a much softer texture and a sweet, delicate flavor. Mozzarella di bufala (also called simply buffalo mozzarella) is the most prized of the fresh mozzarellas. Most buffalo mozzarella available in the United States is made from a combination of water buffalo milk and cow's milk. Two popular forms of fresh mozzarella are boconccini, which are little (about 1 inch in diameter) balls that are commonly marinated in olive oil and sometimes herbs, and a smoked version called mozzarella affumicata . There's also the unique manteca , in which the mozzarella is molded around a lump of butter. Fresh mozzarella can be found in Italian markets, cheese shops and some supermarkets. It's excellent simply spread on bread with salt, pepper and a little olive oil.
PECORINO ROMANO: pecorino cheese [peh-kuh-REE-noh] In Italy, cheese made from sheep's milk is known as pecorino . Most of these cheeses are aged and classified as GRANA (hard,granular and sharply flavored); however, the young, unaged Ricotta pecorino is soft, white and mild in flavor. Aged pecorinos range in color from white to pale yellow and have a sharp, pungent flavor. The best known of this genre is Pecorino Romano, which comes inlarge cylinders with a hard yellow rind and yellowish-white interior. Other notable pecorinos are Sardo, Siciliano and Toscano. These hard, dry cheeses are good for grating and are used mainly in cooking. They can be used in any recipe that calls for PARMESAN CHEESE, especially if a sharper flavor is desired.
PROVOLONE: provolone cheese [proh-voh-LOH-nee] This southern Italian cow's milk-cheese has a firm texture and a mild, smoky flavor. It has a golden-brown rind and comes in various forms, though the squat pear shape is most recognizable. Most provolone is aged for 2 to 3 months and has a pale-yellow color. However, some are aged 6 months to a year or more. As the cheese ripens, the color becomes a richer yellow and the flavor more pronounced. It is an excellent cooking cheese and aged provolones can be used for grating. Provolone is packaged in various sizes from little pear-shaped packages to giant sausage-shaped 200-pounders. Provolone is also now manufactured in the United States.
RICOTTA: ricotta cheese [rih-KAHT-tuh] This rich fresh cheese is slightly grainy but smoother than cottage cheese. It's white, moist and has a slightly sweet flavor. Most Italian ricottas are made from the WHEY drained off while making cheeses such as MOZZARELLA and PROVOLONE. Technically, this type of ricotta is not really cheese because it's made from a cheese by-product. In the United States, ricottas are usually made with a combination of whey and whole or skim milk. The word ricotta means "recooked," and is derived from the fact that the cheese is made by heating the whey from another cooked cheese. Ricotta is a popular ingredient in many Italian savory preparations like LASAGNA and MANICOTTI, as well as desserts like CASSATA and CHEESECAKE.
STRACCHINO: [straht-CHEE-noh] A fresh, cow's-milk cheese from Italy's Lombardy region. Stracchino contains about 50 percent milk fat. Its flavor is mild and delicate - similar to but slightly more acidic than CREAM CHEESE. Stracchino Crescenza has a somewhat higher milk fat content, which results in a slightly creamier texture.
TALEGGIO: Taleggio cheese [tahl-EH-zhee-oh] Hailing from Italy's Lombardy region, this rich (48 percent fat), semisoft cheese is made from whole cow's milk. Its flavor can range from mild to pungent, depending on its age. When young, Taleggio's color is pale yellow and its texture semisoft. As it ages it darkens to deep yellow and becomes rather runny. Taleggio is sold in flat blocks or cylinders and is covered either with a wax coating or a thin mold. It's excellent with salad greens or served with fruit for dessert.
WHEY: whey [HWAY; WAY] The watery liquid that separates from the solids (CURDS) in cheesemaking. Whey is sometimes further processed into whey cheese (see CHEESE). It can be separated another step, with butter being made from the fattier share. Whey is also used in processed foods such as crackers. Primarily, however, whey is more often used as livestock feed than it is in the human diet.
Portions excerpted from The Food Lover's Companion, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst, Barron's Educational Services, Inc.