Unlike other parts of the world, Italy is blessed with varied micro-environments. The micro-environments help preserve the varied culture, foods, and traditions of the 107 provinces or regions of Italy.
Cheese is an ideal example of how each Italian region produces it’s own version of a basic food commodity. The region of Calabria, and the birthplace of my parents, produces some great cheeses, as do the many other provinces of Southern Italy. Here are our top Top 12 Southern Italian Cheeses, including, but not limited to, Pecorino, Caprino d’Aspromonte, Provolone, Caciocavallo, Burrata, etc.
Pecorino is the king of Southern Italian cheeses (specifically, Calabria). Pecorino is made from sheep’s milk and some varieties are aged (such as the type used for grating). My grandafather produced a version of Pecorino with his 20 or so sheep. Most folks know Percorino Romano which can be sharp and tangy.
Another Calabrian favorite, Provolone can be eaten young or, like Pecorino, it can age and become more flavorful. Provolone is readily available in the US and can be used in sandwiches and antipasti.
The horse cheese – don’t ask me why. Caciocavallo is a cross between provolone and gouda. Caciocavallo goes well with fruit or can be grated. The pic above is of Caciocavallo.
This is the cheese you see hanging in a basket at Italian specialty shops. Incanestrato is a spicy cheese and can be grateed (when aged) or eaten fresh.
The best Mozzarella in the world comes from Naples (sorry, Calabria). Mozzarella is a semi-soft cheese made from water buffalo milk. If you can find imported Mozzarella from Italy, it is a grand treat (especially when eaten raw with extra virgin olive oil, a ripe tomato, and some basel). Fresh mozzarella can be found in the US and the quality has become quite good (but note the cheese is made with cow’s milk).
Provola is similar to mozzarella, but is a bit firmer.
Ricotta is one of my favorite cheeses. Ricotta means “cooked twice” or re-cook. Ricotta is made with cow’s milk and is very creamy and smooth. Ricotta can be used as is with a drizzle of olive and spread on toast or you can combine linguine, olive oil, and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to make one of the loveliest pasta dishes on the planet. I don’t recommend buying the supermarket variety (as it is tasteless and often lacks consistency and texture), rather go to a local Italian speciality shop and ask for the fresh variety. My mother makes a version of Ricotta in her New Jersey kitchen.
(photo: thanks to deliziedicalabria.biz for the photo of Pecorino)
A cow’s milk cheese shaped like a pear with a dark yellow exterior. Scamorza is a soft cheese and is usually eaten on its own.
A goat’s milk cheese made into a soft or hard variant. This is made in the beautfiful Aspromonte mountain region of Calabria and is relatively near my parent’s village of Pellegrina. Traditionaly a fresh or seasoned version of the cheese has been produced. Caprino derives from the word Capra meaning goat.
Burrata is made in Puglia and is a fresh Italian cheese (made via mozzarella and cream). The outer skin is mozzarella while the inside is a cream like substance. Burrata means “buttered” in Italian. This cheese is becoming popular in the US.
Piacentino or Piacintinu is made in Sicilia from sheep’s milk and is cented with saffron and studded with black peppercorns. It’s a firm and sharp cheese.
Ragusano is a cow’s milk cheese made in Sicilia. The cheese has a smooth, thin skin, no rind, and creamy color. It’s often grilled when you and as it ages it becomes better suited for grating.
Vastedda della Valle del Belice
Vastedda della Valle del Belice is a DOP sheep’s milk cheese from Sicilia which has wonderful melting characteristics.