Published On: September 5, 2023

Italy’s culinary landscape is renowned worldwide with so many of your favorite flavors and classic dishes such as pizza, fresh pastas, pesto, and risottos. At the heart of this you’ll find your most beloved imported cheeses from Italy.  When it comes to Italian cheese; every bite tells a story of terroir, history, and the undying Italian love for tradition.

The origins of Italian cheesemaking can be traced back to ancient times when pastoral communities began to settle in different regions. These communities realized that transforming animal milk into cheese was not only a way to preserve this precious resource but also an avenue to create diverse flavors and textures. As cheesemaking techniques grew and evolved, they became part of the fabric of Italian culture.  Let’s explore the story behind some of Italy’s most popular cheeses.

Parmigiano-Reggiano: The King of Cheeses

Parmigiano-Reggiano, the “King of Cheeses,” commands respect with its rich history dating back over 900 years. Born in the Emilia-Romagna region, this hard and granular aged cow’s milk cheese was a creation of necessity and ingenuity. Monks in medieval monasteries crafted a technique that transformed surplus milk into a long-lasting delight. Today, the cheese’s unmistakable nutty flavor and crumbly texture stand as a tribute to the craftsmanship passed down through generations. Try it in our recipe for Baked Autumn Risotto featuring another Italian cheese favorite – imported Fontina.

Baked Autumn Risotto

Mozzarella di Bufala Campana: Pastoral Beginnings

In the heart of Campania, the art of making Mozzarella di Bufala Campana reaches back to the 12th century. Crafted from the milk of water buffalo, this cheese is the embodiment of the region’s fertile pastures and skilled artisans.  The mild climate of the Campania region provides the ideal conditions for buffalo farming, resulting in an excess of milk that was used to make this unique and creamy delicacy. The smooth, elastic texture and delicate flavor make it a versatile ingredient in salads, pizzas, and caprese. It’s not just a cheese; it’s a piece of Campania’s culture.

Gorgonzola: A Happy Accident

Venture north to Lombardy, where Gorgonzola claims its throne as Italy’s blue cheese masterpiece. The cheese’s history dates to the 9th century where legend has it that a shepherd in the town of Gorgonzola near Milan left his cow’s milk behind for longer than intended due to various distractions. This prolonged aging allowed naturally occurring blue mold (Penicillium roqueforti) to develop within the cheese. Upon discovering the blue veins and distinct flavor, the shepherd decided to taste it and found the cheese to be surprisingly delicious. This accidental encounter with blue mold led to the creation of what we now know as Gorgonzola cheese! Learn more about it here.

Taleggio: A Washed Rind Masterpiece

Taleggio cheese is a semi-soft, washed rind, cow’s milk cheese that hails from the Lombardy region of Italy. It has a distinctive aroma and creamy, flavorful interior. The process of making Taleggio cheese involves a series of steps that contribute to its unique taste and texture with one technique that really stands out. As the cheese wheels are aged they’re periodically washed or “smear-ripened” with seawater. This contributes to the development of its reddish-orange rind and distinctive aroma.  You’ll love it in our easy Polenta Bites appetizer recipe.

Crispy Polenta Taleggio Cheese

Crispy Polenta Taleggio Bites

Pecorino Romano: A Taste of Ancient Rome

The roots of Pecorino Romano trace back to ancient times, making it a true treasure from the past. Made from sheep’s milk, this aged cheese was even a staple in the diet of Roman soldiers due to its protein and portability. The robust texture and salty taste provided key sustenance during long campaigns. Even today, Pecorino Romano’s sharp flavor adds depth to pasta dishes such as Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe and brings a taste of history to modern tables.  Learn more about it here!

Whether you enjoy them on a cheeseboard, as a key ingredient in your cooking, or just to grate on top of your pizza; each bite of imported Italian cheese captures a rich history inviting us to savor not just the flavors, but the centuries of craftsmanship and passion that go into making them!