Mmm, cheese. I seriously love this stuff and at this point, after years eating kilos upon kilos of it, I consider myself pretty familiar with this holy grail of dairy products.
I like fresh cheese and aged cheese, flavored cheese and DOC cheese. In fact, when it comes to Italian cheeses, I am not sure I have ever met one I didn’t like. Recently, on our retreat in Florence, I shared this love with the participants and when Cher got back to the US, most likely with delicious Italian cheeses still running through her veins, she thought it’d be a great idea for an article.
So, if you love this stuff as much as I do, here is my mini-guide to formaggio Italiano!
Where do I get cheese in Italy?
Much like in the US, you can buy cheese at the deli counter. Near the deli there is usually some already pre-packaged and pre-weighed cheeses for you to browse as well.
Personally, I like my cheese fresh cut, so I recommend going to the deli versus buying it pre-packaged.
Alternatively you can get cheese from a caseificio, which is a shop that specializes in dairy products. These shops are usually close to the farm where the sheep / cows are bred.
OK, now I know where to go but there are like…one million cheeses. Help.
If only! But yes, there are quite a few cheeses to choose from. While I wish I could tell you about every formaggio I have tried and loved, unfortunately, that would be a book, not a post, so I’m going to give you guys some of my all time, absolute favorites.
Parmigiano Reggiano 24 mesi (DOP): This is the good stuff. You can grate it or eat it; it’s good on or with just about every primo or secondo.
Hint: I prefer 24 months to 12 months aged…to me the 24 months aging time makes it not too hard, and not too soft, but you can find both younger and older. Carlotta says that the 36 months is the best but to be prepared for a veeeery high cost!
Hint 2: Wondering what DOP means? Denominazione di Origine Protetta or Protected Designation of Origin, which means it was produced according to super strict standards. This label is definitely something you want to look for when buying a cheese like parmigiano.
Pecorino (Romano, Toscano, Sardo) DOP: Pecorino is a sheep’s milk cheese. I prefer the Sardo version slightly more (to me it tastes more earthy), but they are all delicious. You can find fresh pecorino, aged, or super aged pecorino cheeses. Obviously the more it’s aged the “stinkier” it gets, meaning it has a bolder and less milky flavor.
Ricotta: Want to know my secret to buying a good ricotta? Goat’s milk ricotta over cow’s milk ricotta, all day every day. The goat’s milk ricotta is sweeter and so delicious. I love an afternoon snack of ricotta on toast drizzled with oil and salt. Mmmm.
Burrata: Burrata is essentially mozzarella, but a softer, milkier, buttery version. It’s great to be eaten when you want even more mozzarella flavor and texture.
Stracchino: This is a type of cow’s milk cheese that is delicious and gooey and so good as an appetizer with prosciutto crudo. It’s a fresh cheese, no rind, and sometimes known as “crescenza.”
Stracciatella: I would be a bad Pugliese girl if I didn’t mention this cheese! A cow’s milk cheese, similar again to mozzarella, it is produced by stretching and pulling. Delicious with an antipasto or some fresh tomatoes and olives!
Ricotta salata: Salted ricotta is AMAZING. Not everyone has tried it, and it’s definitely not a cheese you eat by the slice (too salty to eat alone) but grated on top of pasta in place of parm, or served in small cubes baked into a pasta dish, it’s truly fantastic.
Mouth watering? Ready to order? Here are some keywords to know (and use) at the counter.
— Vorrei… – I would like…
— Poi? – Anything else?
— Basta. – That’s enough.
— Fetta – Slice
— Fettina – Thin slice
— Un etto – 1/10th of a kilo, aka 100 grams. 1kg =2.2 lb so 1/10 of 2.2 is just barely under ¼ lb
— Due / tre etti – Plural of etto, for more than 100 grams
— Grammi – Grams, you can also order in grams instead of saying etti
Curious how these words come together when you’re actually there? Here is an example of what the entire process might look like.
Dialogue: Buying Cheese
Cheese lover: Buongiorno! Oggi vorrei tre etti di pecorino. – Good morning! Today I would like 300 grams of pecorino.
Deli counter guy: Bene allora, ma che tipo di pecorino? Abbiamo pecorino sardo o toscano. – OK, that’s’ fine but what type of pecorino? We have pecorino from Sardinia and Tuscany.
Cheese lover: Ohhh quello Sardo di certo! – Oooo, the Sardinian one of course!
Deli counter guy: OK, quanto ne vuoi? – How much do you want?
Cheese lover: Un mezzo kilo per favore. — Half a kilo, please!
When the deli worker is done, he will usually say, “poi?” (or “altro?” or “vuole dell’altro?”) meaning, “anything else?”
I continue this way, asking about or ordering just one or two items at a time, until I am done and I give a hearty, “basta, grazie” or “that’s enough, thanks”.
Have you ever ordered cheese in Italy? What’s your favorite type? Share your cheesiest stories below!