Italian Food Explained


Ricotta Dura – Hard Ricotta

ricotta dura

An aged ricotta which is usually grated and sprinkled on pasta. Regular soft ricotta is not an appropriate substitute.

Parmigiano Reggiano


Parmigiano Reggiano is made from raw cow’s milk. The whole milk of the morning milking is mixed with the naturally skimmed milk of the previous evening’s milking resulting in a part skim mixture. The milk is pumped into copper-lined vats (copper heats quickly and cools quickly). There are 1100 L of milk per vat, producing two cheeses each. The curd making up each wheel at this point weighs around 45 kg (100 lb). The remaining whey in the vat was traditionally used to feed the pigs from which Parma hams are produced. The barns for these animals were usually just a few yards away from the cheese production rooms.

The cheese is put into a stainless steel round form that is pulled tight with a spring powered buckle so the cheese retains its wheel shape. After a day or two, the buckle is released and a plastic belt imprinted numerous times with the Parmigiano Reggiano name, the plant’s number, and month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is buckled tight again. The imprints take hold on the rind of the cheese in about a day and the wheel is then put into a brine bath to absorb salt for 20 days. After brining, the wheels are then transferred to the aging rooms in the plant for 12 months. Each cheese is placed on wooden shelves that can be 24 cheeses high by 90 cheeses long or about 4,000 total wheels per aisle. Each cheese and the shelf underneath it is then cleaned robotically every 7 days. The cheese is also turned at this time.

At 12 months the Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano inspects each and every cheese. The cheese is tested by a Master grader whose only instruments are a hammer and sound. By tapping the wheel at various points, he can identify undesirable cracks and voids within the wheel. Those cheeses that pass the test are then heat branded on the rind with the Consorzio’s logo. Cheeses that are not so selected used to have their rinds remarked with lines or the letter x all the way around so consumers know they are not getting top quality Parmigiano Reggiano, but are now simply stripped of all markings.

Traditionally, cows have to be fed only on grass or hay, producing grass fed milk. Only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter, together with calf rennet.

The only additive allowed is salt which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated to near total salinity with Mediterranean sea salt. The product is aged an average of two years. The cheese is produced daily, and it can show a natural variability. True Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese has a complex fruity/nutty taste and a slightly gritty texture. Inferior versions can impart a bitter taste.

The average Parmigiano Reggiano wheel is about 18-24 cm (7 to 9 inches) high, 40-45 cm (16 to 18 inches) in diameter, and weighs an average of 38 kg (80 pounds).

Uses of the cheese include being grated with a grater over pasta, stirred into soup and risotto, and eaten in chunks with balsamic vinegar. It is also a key ingredient in alfredo sauce and pesto.

Grana Padano


Grana Padano cheese is one of the most popular Denominazione di Origine Controllata cheeses of Italy. The name comes from the noun grana (‘grain’), which refers to the distinctively grainy texture of the cheese, and the adjective Padano, which refers to the river Po.

Grana Padano was created by the Cistercian monks of Chiaravalle who used ripened cheese as a way of preserving surplus milk. By the year 1477, it was regarded as one of the most famous cheeses of Italy. Today, this product is made in the regions of Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Piedmont, Trentino, and Veneto.

Like Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano is a semi-fat hard cheese which is cooked and ripened slowly (for up to 18 months). It is produced by curdling the milk of grass-fed cows. The cows are milked twice a day, the milk is left to stand, and then partially creamed. It is produced all year round and the quality can vary seasonally as well as by year.

A wheel of Grana Padano is cylindrical, with slightly convex or almost straight sides and flat faces. It measures 35 to 45 cm in diameter, and 15 to 18 cm in height. It weighs 24 to 40kg per wheel. The rind, which is thin, is white or straw yellow.

Grana Padano cheese has been produced since the 12th century, and production and quality are now overseen by the Consorzio per la Tutela del Formaggio Grana Padano.



Pecorino is the name of a family of hard Italian cheeses made from sheep’s milk. The word pecora, from which the name derives, means sheep. Most are aged and sharp.

Of the four main varieties of mature pecorino, all of which have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under European Union law, Pecorino Romano is probably the best known outside Italy, especially in the United States which has been an important export market for the cheese since the 19th century. Most Pecorino Romano is produced on the island of Sardinia, though its production is also allowed in Lazio and in the Tuscan Province of Grosseto.

The other three mature PDO cheeses are the milder Pecorino Sardo from Sardinia; Pecorino Toscano, the Tuscan relative of Pecorino Sardo; and Pecorino Siciliano (or Picurinu Sicilianu in Sicilian) from Sicily. All come in a variety of styles depending on how long they have been matured. The more matured cheeses, referred to as stagionato, are harder and have a stronger flavour. Some varieties may have spices included in the cheese. In Sardinia, the larvae of the cheese fly are intentionally introduced into Pecorino Sardo to produce a local delicacy called casu marzu.

Pecorino Romano is most often used on pasta dishes, like the better-known Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan). Its distinctive strong, very salty flavour means that it is preferred for some pasta dishes with highly-flavoured sauces, especially those of Roman origin, such as pasta all’amatriciana.



Gorgonzola is a blue veined Italian blue cheese, made from unskimmed cow’s milk. It can be buttery or firm, crumbly and quite salty, with a ‘bite’ from its blue veining. It has been made since the early Middle Ages, but only became marbled with greenish-blue mold in the eleventh century. It is frequently used in Italian cooking. The name comes from Gorgonzola, a small town near Milan, Italy, where the cheese was reportedly first made in 879; however, this claim of geographical origin is disputed by other towns.

Gorgonzola is made in the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy from whole pasteurized cow’s milk to which is added the bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus along with spores of the mold Penicillium glaucum. Recently Penicillium roqueforti has started to be used to make Gorgonzola, besides its use in Roquefort cheese. After the whey is removed, it is aged at low temperatures. During the aging process, metal rods are inserted into the cheese. This creates air channels which allows the mold spores to germinate and create the characteristic veining. Gorgonzola is typically aged for three to four months. The length of the aging process determines the consistency of the cheese. A firm Gorgonzola is aged longer than creamy Gorgonzola. It is usually sold wrapped in foil.

Gorgonzola may be consumed in many ways. It may be melted into a risotto in the final stage of cooking, for instance. Another fairly traditional dish sees Gorgonzola served alongside polenta. Because of its distinctive flavor, it is occasionally offered as a topping on pizza.

Today by law the zone of production includes only a defined area. What was once the village of Gorgonzola, not far from Milan, is being swallowed up in suburbia. Most Gorgonzola is actually produced in the province of Novara, but the DOC zone also includes such provinces as Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Cuneo, Lecco, Lodi, Milan, Pavia, Varese, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, and Vercelli, as well as a number of comunes in the area of Casale Monferrato (province of Alessandria).



Scamorza is an Italian cow’s milk cheese. It can also be made of other milks, but that is less common. It is a close relative of mozzarella.

Scamorza is a plastic curd (or stretched curd) cheese in which the fresh curd matures in its own way for several hours to allow acidity to develop by the process of lactose being converted to lactic acid. Artisanal cheesemakers would generally form the cheese into a round shape and then tie a string around the mass one third of the distance from the top and hang to dry. The resulting shape is pear-like. This is sometimes referred to as “strangling” the cheese. The cheese is usually white in color unless smoked. When smoked, the color is almond with a lighter interior.

It is reputed to melt better in baking than mozzarella. It can be substituted for mozzarella in most dishes. If using the smoked variety (scamorza affumicata), it adds a nice background flavor in replacement of mozzarella.

Scamorza is a favorite cheese of the Hazleton, Pennsylvania area and is found on cheese steaks, salads and french fries. In Hazleton, the cheese is pronouned “Scah-muhtz”

Scamorza is also the cheese of choice for a pizza topping in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Elsewhere in the state, mozzarella is used.



Mozzarella is a generic term for the several kinds of, originally, Italian fresh cheeses that are made using spinning and then cutting (hence the name; the Italian verb mozzare actually means “to cut”): mozzarella di latte di bufala made from unpasteurized water buffalo’s milk; mozzarella di bufala campana made only from Campania’s buffalo milk; mozzarella fior di latte made from fresh pasteurized or unpasteurized cow’s milk; and mozzarella made from mixtures, sometimes smoked, and those stored in preservatives.

Fresh mozzarella is usually served on the day it is made as it does not keep beyond 12 or 24 hours. Mozzarella of several kinds are also used for most types of pizza (more compact lower water content kinds), lasagna, or served with sliced tomatoes and basil in Insalata caprese.

The mozzarella di bufala campana (Dop 1996) is a particular type of mozzarella; some consider it the best for flavour or quality and it is protected by European DOP. It is a raw material in Italian style neapolitan Pizza – rather than mozzarella made with pasteurized cow’s milk.

Mozzarella is available fresh; it is usually rolled in the shape of a ball of 80 to 100 grams (6 cm diameter), sometimes up to 1 kilogram (about 12 cm diameter), and soaked in salted water, sometimes with added citric acid, until sold.

Fior di latte (written also as fiordilatte) is used to distinguish the mozzarella made from cow’s milk from that made from buffalo’s milk. Another difference is that fior di latte has more fats and less water. This makes it more suitable as a basic component for pizza, while mozzarella would almost completely melt into whey when baked.

When slightly desiccated (partially dried), the structure becomes more compact; then it is better used to prepare dishes cooked in the oven, for example lasagne.

When twisted to form a plait it is called treccia.

It is also available in smoked (called affumicata) and reduced-moisture packaged varieties. To preserve a natural consistency (for no more than a couple of days), fresh mozzarella is delivered in its own liquid (whey).

There are now offered a number of variations, such as “stuffed mozzarella”, filled with olives and cooked or raw ham, as well as small tomatoes (pomodorini).

Provelone / Provola


Provolone is an Italian cheese that originated in southern Italy, where it is still produced in various shapes as in 10 to 15 cm long pear shapes, sausage shape or cone shape. The most important Provolone production region is currently Northern Italy.

The term Provolone (meaning large Provola) appeared around the end of the 19th Century when it started to be manufactured in the Northern regions of Italy, and this cheese assumed its current large size.

Provolone is today a whole-milk cow cheese with a smooth skin produced mainly in the Po River Valley regions of Lombardia and Veneto. It is produced in different forms: shaped like large salami up to 30 cm in diameter and 90 cm long; in a watermelon shape; in a truncated bottle shape; or also in a large pear shape with the characteristic round knob for hanging. The average weight is 5 kg.

Provolone is a semi-hard cheese with taste varying greatly from Provolone Piccante (piquant), aged minimum 4 months and with a very sharp taste, to Provolone Dolce (sweet) with a very mild taste. In Provolone Piccante, the distinctive piquant taste is produced with lipase originating from goat. The Dolce version uses calf’s lipase instead.

The Provolone Val Padana has received from the European Community the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) seal.

In Argentina and Uruguay, small discs of locally-produced “Provolone” of 10 to 15 cm in diameter and 1 to 2 cm in height are generally consumed before eating grilled meat. The Provolone is either placed directly on the grill, on small stones or inside a foil plate and cooked until melted. The provoleta is seasoned with “chimichurri”, a mixture of oils and spices, and usually eaten communally.

This page was prepared with the help of Wikipedia


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