Grate days! Americans try more Italian cheeses

November 01, 1995|By Pat Dailey | Pat Dailey,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Move over mozzarella.

Although this perennially popular pizza topper most assuredly will never be replaced as the best-selling Italian cheese, American markets have more types than ever to tempt shoppers away from it.

From seductively creamy fresh cheeses to the sharp piquancy of an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, here's a rundown on some of the treasures available in the United States:

Asiago: Produced in the foothills of the Dolomites, originally from sheep's milk, now from cows'. Shaped in large rounds and marked by tiny holes, it has a pale, golden hue and delicate taste when young. Aged, it becomes sharper and is used for grating.

Baita Friulli: An Alpine-made cows'-milk cheese that's firm enough to grate but mild enough to snack on.

Bel paese: Sweet, buttery and semi-soft, this is a modern-day cheese, invented in the 20th century. Its name means "beautiful country." Often served with wine or fruit, it also melts well.

Caciocavallo: A hard cheese made from cows' milk, formed into a ball and tied. Especially popular in Sicily, it has a mild taste and melts well.

Cacio de Roma: A young sheep's-milk cheese with a soft, creamy texture that's ideal for cooking.

Caprini: Goats'-milk cheese -- "capra" means goat -- formed in small molds, usually eaten fresh.

Crescenza: A fresh, rindless cheese, made of cows' milk. It has a mild, luxurious taste.

Fontina: The undisputed best is the Alpine-made Fontina Valle d'Aosta, a straw-colored cheese with a thin brown rind. Similar to Gruyere, only sweeter and more buttery.

Gorgonzola: Pungent, sharp and creamy, this is the Italian big blue, its blue-green veins set in tawny beige background.

Grana Padano: A hard cows'-milk cheese, similar in taste, appearance and use to Parmigiano-Reggiano. In Italy, this is essential as a table and grating cheese.

Mascarpone: Delectable, ivory-colored, fresh cheese with a velvety texture. Served with fruit or in the elaborate dessert called tiramisu.

Mozzarella: A pale melting cheese that also is sold smoked and called affumicata. Scamorza is a regional variant. Fresh mozzarella di bufala is increasingly common; it is softer, whiter and more perishable than the more familiar cheese.

Parmigiano Reggiano: Considered the king of cheeses in Italy, its production is rigidly controlled. Sold in huge cylinders and usually aged about 3 years, it is a superb grating cheese. In Italy, paper-thin shavings often are served on salads.

Pecorino Romano: "Pecora" means sheep and this is the most famous of sheep's-milk cheeses. Hard and grainy with a pleasantly sharp taste, this is a table and grating cheese.

Provolone: An uncooked, smooth, pale cheese with a mild taste, made in the tip of the Italian boot. Size varies from small, pear- shaped packages to 200-pounders.

Ricotta: A fresh white cheese, slightly grainy and mild. Its name means recooked and it often is the byproduct of other cheesemaking processes. Ricotta salata is salted and drained so it becomes firmer and more compact, somewhat like feta.

Robiola: A soft, disk-shaped fresh cows'-milk cheese. With a faint, pleasant, acidic tang, it goes well with fruit.

Taleggio: A square cheese with a golden rind and fine, creamy flavor. Occasionally the cheese is ripened, becoming plumper and more aromatic.

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