By Harwood E Woodpecker
Italy is famous for many thing's, pasta, architecture, coffee, pizza and pasta just to name a few. But could you imagine a world without Italian cheese, No Parmesan on your pasta or mozzarella on your pizza.
One thing about Italian food is the regional variances. Pizza and pasta types vary from region to region as do such things as breads. Within these regional variances certain areas of Italy do things better than others, whether it be because of the terrain or the climate different products are associated with different areas, such as Parma ham from Parma, pizza from Napoli, meat dishes from Turin and fish dishes from Sardinia.
Lombardi, the region which includes Milan is renowned throughout Italy for its cheese and sausage. These Italian cheeses are deliciously tasty and make a great accompaniment to any meal.
Small and medium-sized producers of specialist Italian cheeses in the Alpine regions face a difficult struggle to maintain their existence in competition with the varied palette of factory-made dairy products. Unfortunately, European Union regulations often only serve to hasten their demise, by making often contradictory demands, imposing quotas and limits, or fining them for not fulfilling certain norms, despite the fact that theirs are high quality, often imaginative, products. Italian cheese making is going through a difficult time.
Stracchino is one of these threatened products. It is a rectangular Italian cheese made from whole milk. It is a rich cheese, pearly white in colour, with a soft, creamy texture and remarkable, delicate flavour.
Stracchino is sometimes known outside of Lombardi as Crescenza. The name Stracchino cheese comes from the way the milk to make it was originally obtained: it was the milk of vacche stracche, cows exhausted by the journey back down the mountain from the summer meadows. Stracco is local dialect for exhausted - and stracchino is little exhausted one.
Taleggio is a square Italian cheese weighing about four pounds (2 kilograms), it is a typical Lombard country soft Italian cheese. The rind is brownish and tends to form a mold. Directly beneath this rind, the cheese is soft and soft textured, but in the centre, it is whitish and crumbly. The first mention of Taleggio Italian cheese dates from around 1200, and the method of production has changed little since then, apart from the use of selected enzymes to ensure the quality of the end product. The cheese is still only made from cow's milk. The curd takes 18 hours to form, and the cheese must mature for at least one month before being ready to eat. Taleggio is mild with a slight sourness, becoming quite piquant as it ages. It should not he kept for long periods because it spoils easily. A slice of Taleggio rounds off a meal. It also goes well with hot polenta, and tastes delicious eaten with ripe pears. Taleggio is a favourite Italian cheese.
Gorgonzola is a very old Italian cheese specialty, and originates from the town of Gorgonzola in Lombardy. First written records of it are from the 11th and 12th centuries. A blue-veined Italian cheese, it is produced today across a wide area of Piedmont and Lombardy, and is popular both in Italy and abroad. Almost every supermarket in the western world will stock and sell Gorgonzola.
The region produces around three million Gorgonzola cheeses per year, which are exported to the rest of Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, the USA, UK and Canada packed as portions in colourfully printed foil wrappers, which must bear the brand figure of the consortium to be genuine. It has a strong, piquant flavour - with a hint of bitterness, and is a true all-round Italian cheese. Gorgonzola makes a good partner to eat with polenta, tastes good - with egg and with nuts, and can be used for creams and sauces. It is delicious with a robust red wine. It also makes a great sauce to go with steak. Gorgonzola is an extremely versatile Italian cheese hence its popularity.
Provolone Valpadana is a hard Italian cheese with its characteristic shape - round, pear-shaped, or sometimes cylindrical - originally comes from Basilicata in the south, but is also made in northern Italy today, especially in Lombardy. Because of its shape it is also known as pear cheese. Provolone is sold in various sizes, and is made by a similar pasta filata process to mozzarella.The curd is scalded - it is heated until it begins to melt and become stringy (filata), and then wrapped around itself until it assumes its round shape. It is dipped in brine and hung up on a cord to ripen, which takes about a year. The rind is coated in wax to protect it from drying out. Provolone comes in various flavor categories from provolone dolce, which is mild and buttery, to piquant (provolone piccante). The mild version makes a good end to a meal, and the piquant one is often used grated. A smoked version is available in Lombardy. Provolone is a wonderful Italian cheese to accompany a sandwich, its delicate flavor adds to a sandwich without over powering it.
Probably the most universally famous Italian cheese is Parmesan, avariation on this is Grana Padano which is often compared to Parmigiano Reggiano, despite the differences between them in the method of production and region of origin. Parmigiano reggiano comes exclusively from Emilia-Romagna, and grana padano from the Veneto,Trentino, Piedmont, or Lombardy. Parmigiano Reggiano may by law only be made from the milk of cows that have been fed on grass or hay, whereas other types of fodder are permissible for grana padano.
This does not mean that it is in anyway inferior. Its manufacture is supervised by a consortium, and only cheeses bearing the official brand mark grana padano are the genuine article. The milk from which it is made comes from two consecutive milkings, and is allowed to stand and partially skimmed to produce an Italian cheese with just 30 percent fat in dry matter. The milk is then heated and micro-organisms added. The cheeses are matured for 1-2 years. Grana padano has a granular texture, and can become dry and crumbly. It forms a thick, smooth rind. The cheese has a harmonious flavour, not too salty and not too mild, with a slight piquancy and a nutty quality. It can be eaten as an appetizer, or used for grating over pasta dishes or green salads.
So next time you want to eat the real Italian way
use real Italian cheese, it will make a difference.
If you've never tried fresh Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano give it a go, its one Italian cheese that pasta cannot do without.
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