Cheese is a crucial component of Italian cuisine. Every part of the nation has its own varieties and own special ways of using it, from mozzarella laden pizzas of Naples to pecorino crammed pestos in Liguria. At Eataly, you’ll find cheeses from all over the peninsular, and you might be surprised by the diversity of what’s on offer.
One of the world’s greatest inventions
Cheese is an incredible food, and one of the most amazing things about it is how simple the ingredients are. From a base of milk, salt and rennet (enzymes found in the stomachs of animals like sheep and cows), artisan cheese makers create products as different as gorgonzola, ricotta salata and Parmigiano. At its simplest, cheese is just curdled milk. Basic cheeses like mascarpone can be made in a couple of days while, at its most refined, Italian cheeses like Parmigiano can mature for over a year. In between there’s a galaxy of textures, appearances and tastes to discover – and Eataly’s local delicatessen is the ideal place to do so.
Italian cheese making: an ancient tradition
There’s nothing new about Italy’s love affair with cheese. The Romans adored cheese. Actually, they loved it so much that many homes had a special cheese-making room, the caseale, where cheeses were stored and matured. Ever since, Italians have experimented with the milk of cows, goats and sheep, developing soft, hard, sweet, pungent, blue and dessert cheeses. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call cheese a national obsession. In fact, during the middle ages, it was a lot more than that as well. With currency scarce, Italians regularly used rounds of Parmigiano cheese as money. Nowadays, every region has its own specialities and ways to serve cheese. Discovering them all is one of the world’s great gastronomic adventures.
Introducing some of Italy’s favourite cheeses
There are almost 500 different cheese varieties in Italy, so almost no-one can try them all. However, there are some classics that all cheese lovers should explore:
- one of the most famous is gorgonzola, which is produced in Lombardy and is a medium soft, blue-veined cow’s milk cheese with a salty tang;
- Pecorino is a hard, salty sheep’s milk cheese that is made in Sardinia, Tuscany and Lazio and is often served with nuts or fruit;
- Parmigiano Reggiano is a hard cow’s milk cheese made in hefty “rounds” that is a mainstay of many pasta dishes;
- Mozzarella is a famous soft white buffalo milk cheese which accompanies basil and tomato in tricolore and caprese salads and is often melted onto pizzas.
- then there’s ricotta, a cheese made from whey left over from other cheese-making processes that is a vital ingredient of many cakes and quiches.
The beauty of melted cheese
Italian cheese isn’t only consumed on its own. Sauces made from melted cheese are also very popular. For instance, northerners love to dip bread and vegetables into fonduta di formaggio. Other chefs like to combine mozzarella and Parmigiano to create rich pasta dishes, some can’t resist cacio e pepe (a gooey pasta dish made with pepper and melted pecorino Romano), while pecorino also combines well with meat and tomato in delicious amatriciana pasta dishes. Then there are desserts, which fuse whipped or melted cheese into cakes and pastries. From decadent tiramisus full of mascarpone, to cannoli crammed with ricotta and chocolate, Italians really know how to turn cheese into magical sweets. Whether you want a filling bowl of cheesy bucatini pasta, or a delicate sweet to combine with fine Italian coffee, Eataly’s bakery and restaurant allows you to explore one of the world’s greatest cheese selections.