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Episode #094: 8 Cheeses You Need to Try in Italy

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This week we are talking about something Italy is famous for and a favorite of so many of us – cheese! From the famous, delicious Parmigiano-Reggiano, to the Pecorino that is the basis of many of Rome’s famous pasta dishes, to the fresh, meltingly soft mozzarella. With over 400 varieties of formaggio in Italy, there is so much to try when you visit. 

Show notes

In this episode, we talk to Olivia Windsor, an Australian living in the Piemonte (Piedmont) region of Italy and a committed Italian food lover. We dig deep into 8 cheeses that it is well worth trying in this region and around Italy. We also explain the meaning behind and differences of D.O.P products, the importance of the ageing process or eating it quickly – depending on the type of cheese. 

What you’ll learn this episode

  1. Italy is indeed a nation of formaggio fanatics with 70% of the milk in Italy being converted into cheese, and 22 kilos per capita eaten
  2. A D.O.P product from Italy means it’s a protected designation of origin. This food classification on a label identifies products that are produced, processed, and prepared in a specific geographical area, using the recognized know-how or traditions of local producers. There are 48 cheeses in this classification in Italy
  3. Parmigiano Reggiano is the most imitated cheese in the US, however, the original, D.O.P product is only specific provinces in the Emilia-Romagna region. It uses an 8th century-old method –  the same ingredients and techniques. Like a lot of food in Italy, but it was first produced by monks who wanted to create a long-lasting cheese
  4. A lot of milk is used in the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano – it takes 550 liters of cow’s milk to make just a single wheel
  5. The quality inspection of Parmigiano wheels involves tapping with a kind of hammer which enables them to understand/hear if there is a defect inside the cheese
  6. Every two years a cheese festival is held in a little town in Piemonte called Bra. As well as trying an amazing variety of locally produced cheese you can get the opportunity to see a wheel of Parmigiano – no easy feat  
  7. When you buy your cheese, you can ask if they have any extra rinds, which can then you use to put in a broth or stock as well as to put in soup or even pasta dishes
  8. Grana Padano is a great Parmigiano alternative, however, it’s with good reasons that Parmigiano is the more prized and more expensive cheese. The production zone for Grana is a bigger area – it can be produced in 33 provinces. There are no additives in Parmigiano and even what the cows eat is different from Parmigiano to Grana. It’s a strict diet for the Parmigiano cows – only eating hay and grass, but for Grana, they can also be fed silage. The minimum maturation period is a lot longer for Parmigiano so Grano can be matured for a minimum 9 months
  9. Parmigiano-Reggiano is naturally lactose-free because it’s stagionato(a hard cheese) and aged for so long. And Pecorino, as it is sheep’s milk, is of course also lactose-free
  10. There are 7 different D.O.P Pecorino cheeses. If they are D.O.P status, they need to be aged for 8 months or longer
  11. The key ingredient to some of Rome’s specialty dishes – Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe, Alla Gricia, and Amatriciana is the Pecorino Romano. If it has the name Pecorino Romano, it will be from recipes originating in the region of Lazio, but only 4% is still produced in Lazio. The majority of Pecorino Romano is now produced in Sardegna(Sardinia) – they have got both the space and the sheep.
  12. Pecorino Romano was first produced around 2000 years ago in the countryside surrounding Rome, and it was really important for the Roman diet, but not for the wealthy, not for the nobility. It was originally considered food for the poor and was given to soldiers because it lasts for so long
  13. If you’re in Rome in the Spring – the way that a lot of locals eat Pecorino Romano is with fava beans – a classic combination
  14. The Pecorino of Pienza in Tuscany tastes different again – with very different and wild flora and fauna that the sheep eat. Most Pecorino uses a goat rennet to curdle the sheep’s milk, but the one from Pienza uses a calf rennet, which they also say contributes to the milder, more delicate taste
  15. The lesser-known region of Piemonte has a wonderful array of cheeses. Toma is little known outside the region and is made with either a cow or a goat’s milk, or even a mix of the 2. The cheese is aged for at least 15 days, but it can go up to 60 days. As it matures it becomes a lot more intense in flavor
  16. With Italian cheeses, you’ll generally find that they go really well with the wine that’s produced in the same area
  17. A classic way to enjoy the Piemonte, strong Castelmagno cheese is having it in a risotto. Little chunks go into the risotto and it melts into the dish. A great choice in wintertime
  18. Though originating in Lombardy, 65% of Gorgonzola is produced in Piedmonte. There are two varieties of Gorgonzola – Dolce, aged for a minimum of 50 days, and the more intense Piccante, aged for at least 3 months
  19. Taleggio is a delightfully smelly cheese from the Lombardy region. It has a weekly brushing with salt and water which creates its distinctive orange rind. Taleggio is lovely stirred into pasta, risotto, and polenta as it melts really well
  20. Casanova was apparently a fan of the Taleggio because it used to have a reputation and being an aphrodisiac
  21. The gorgeous town of Pienza is the home of all things Pecorino in Tuscany and has lots of amazing cheese shops as well as a yearly summer cheese festival
  22. If you are in the southern regions of Molise, Puglia, and in particular Campania, don’t miss the opportunity to try the buffalo mozzarella. The best time to eat it is actually 8 to 10 hours after it’s produced, so the less it travels, the better. You also actually shouldn’t refrigerate mozzarella, so you really need to eat it within a day of buying it
  23. A great Instagram account to keep you salivating until you can get to Italy to try some yourself is @burratagram
  24. If you’re going into any region in Italy, make sure you try the local cheeses. Perhaps do a little research before you go and then when you see them on the menu, give it a try. These are the local dishes, they produce has not come not very far. This is what the people making the food know and they’re going to be celebrating that ingredient

About our guest – Olivia Windsor

Olivia is an Italophile who moved to Italy in May 2019 to indulge in her love for the land of la dolce vita, cooking, food & wine. What was meant to be just 12 months has quickly turned into a year and a half… and counting! She has explored the country south to north, working in agriturismi and organic wineries before settling in Turin, Piedmont for the last year after meeting a local Piemontese man. Olivia writes a blog called Livguine, named after her love for pasta and her nickname Liv and has just started offering virtual & in-person food, wine & travel experiences in Northern Italy.

You can find Olivia on these channels:

Places to visit mentioned in the show

  • Langhe –  a hilly area in the province of Asti in Piedmont, northern Italy
  • Emilia Romagna – a region in the North East of Italy
  • Bra – little town near Turin that holds the cheese festival 
  • Sardinia (Sardegna) – the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily
  • Pienza – home of Pecorino cheese in Tuscany

Food & Drink

  • Vendemmia – the Italian word for ‘wine harvest‘ 
  • Bicerin  – a hot chocolate coffee drink from Turin. Find. out more and where to find it in Turin here 
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano – a hard cheese produced from cow’s milk and aged at least 12 months
  • Grana Padano – a cheese originating in the Po river Valley in northern Italy that is similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • stagionato – a hard cheese
  • Casu Martzu – a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese that contains live insect larvae (maggots) which literally translates as ‘off cheese’
  • Pecorino wine grape – wine grape variety that goes nicely with the cheese of the same name
  • Rennet – a complex set of enzymes produced in the stomachs of ruminant mammals used in the production of cheese
  • Toma – a quintessential Piemonte cheese. For the D.O.P label it must be produced in Novara, Vercelli, Biella and Cuneo as well as a handful of comune near Asti and Alessandria
  • Barolo, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto – wine produced in Piedmont/Piemonte
  • cognà – a kind of jam/preserve made from grape must goes beautifully with an aged Toma
  • Castelmagno – a strong dairy milk cheese from the Piemonte region. It often has the blue or green vein through the cheese
  • Gorgonzola – two varieties Dolce, aged for a minimum of 50 days and the more intense Piccante, aged for at least 3 months
  • Taleggio – soft, smelly cheese from Lombardy with an aging period of 35 days
  • Burrata – made from mozzarella and cream
  • buffalo mozzarella/mozzarella di bufala Campania, you can also find it in Puglia, and Molise the DOP status
  • stracciatella – shreds of fresh mozzarella soaked in sweet cream
  • Fior di Latte – cows milk mozzarella

Resources

Resources from Untold Italy

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Transcript

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