What to eat in Italy: 5 of the best Italian cheeses

Popular Italian cheese
30 September 2021, Redaction

Autumn is the perfect season to escape the cold and enjoy good food. And we can think of no better plan than a culinary journey through Italy which you can enjoy at home or on your next trip to Italy.

This tasty tour will take us to various different places throughout Italy where we will discover 5 Italian cheeses that you must try: all of these cheeses are of protected designation of origin (PDO) and represent traditional and unmissable flavours that take us to different regions of Italy, and reveal the exceptional culinary culture of this country. Without further ado, it's time to check out some of the best cheese in Italy. 

Fontina Valdostana PDO

One type of Italian cheese that everyone needs to try on a trip to Italy is Fontina. This is a local delicacy and the main cheese from the Aosta Valley, and since 1996 it has held the Protected Designation of Origin status of the European Union.

Fontina is a fatty cheese, made with very fresh cow's milk and has a surprisingly sweet taste.

Fontina PDO
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Typical dishes made with Fontina cheese:

  • Polenta concia is a seasoned corn polenta ideal for the cold weather in autumn. This dish is made in a bowl with alternate layers of polenta and Fontina, then at the end, melted butter is added. Straight into the oven and ready to eat.
  • Seupetta di Cogne is a simple but traditional Italian dish. It ressembles a soup with slices of stale bread fried in butter, combined with Fontina and rice cooked in meat broth. All of this is finished off with melted butter and a pinch of nutmeg - a real treat!
  • Gratin di pane e Fontina, this bread gratin with Fontina cheese is an ideal dish to use up stale bread. In simple terms, this diss basically some bread with a baked cheese base, mixed with milk and eggs. Simple but incredibly tasty!

Montasio PDO

The next stop on our tour is Friuli Venezia Giulia in order to try another Italian cheese with Protected Designation of Origin: Montasio. This Italian cheese takes its name from the plateau where it has been produced since the year 1200.

It is a hard cheese with an aromatic taste depending on how many months it has been matured: it differs between fresh, medium (mezzano) and extra mature (stagionato).

Montasio PDO
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Typical dishes with Montasio cheese:

  • Lasagne al radicchio e Montasio is a delicious variant of the classic ragú lasagna that we all know and love in Italy and beyond. This baked pasta dish consists of layers of red radicchio and, of course, Montasio cheese typical of the Friuli region.
  • Polpettine di carciofi dal cuore mórbido, i.e. soft artichoke meatballs, are a type of finger food based on a mixture prepared with artichokes, breadcrumbs, eggs, grated Parmesan cheese, garlic and parsley. Inside each meatball is a soft and tasty treat of oozing Montasio.
  • Blecs alla friulana con burro e Montasio, another local delicacy, consists of maltagliati pasta boiled and sautéed in a frying pan with corn flour and butter. The final touch is a sprinkling of extra-mature Montasio cheese.

Casciotta d'Urbino PDO

Our next stop in our guide to Italian cheese is in the centre of Italy, more precisely in Marche, where it's time to sample a sweet-tasting Italian cheese which has a thin rind and resembles a soft paste: Casciotta d'Urbino.

This cheese, made mainly from sheep's milk mixed with a smaller percentage of cow's milk, was highly appreciated by Michelangelo and Pope Clement XIV and is a must for any cheese lovers when visiting Italy.

Casciotta d'Urbino PDO

Typical dishes with Casciotta d'Urbino cheese:

  • Rotolo salato con zucchini e Casciotta consists of a bread roll with courgette and Casciotta, a revised version of the classic salty cake. 
  • Spaghetti con fiori di zucca e fonduta di Casciotta; this dish features some good old spaghetti with courgette flowers and a Casciotta fondue, a traditional starter which is delicate and filling at the same time!
  • Semifreddo alla Casciotta con purea di fragole, Casciotta semifreddo with strawberry puree. This dish sounds complicated but is actually easy to make with some simple store cupboard ingredients: beat egg yolks and sugar together, add some flour and a touch of corn starch. Then, add some boiling milk and make a fondue with the milk, some butter, flour and Casciotta d'Urbino. Once melted, add to the mixture and decorate with a strawberry puree and you'll be left with a delicious dessert.

Canestrato Pugliese PDO

This sheep's milk cheese is produced mainly in the province of Bari and takes its name from the baskets in which it is traditionally aged. It has a delicate taste when the cheese is fresh and becomes more tangy as it matures.

Canestrato Pugliese PDO

Typical dishes with Canestrato Pugliese cheese:

  • Pasta al forno con Canestrato e mozzarella di bufala, baked pasta with Canestrato and buffalo mozzarella, for all baked pasta and cheese lovers. This Italian dish is a first course with a layer of sauce, pasta, mozzarella, meatballs and finally the Canestrato Pugliese grated on top. Mouth watering!
  • Flan di cipolla su fonduta di Canestrato e vincotto di Primitivo, onion fondue on Canestrato fondue and vincotto Primitivo, a delicious dish reminiscent of the most famous onion calzone a la barese (here accompanied by a cream of Canestrato and a few drops of Apulian vincotto Primitivo). A modern and refined reinterpretation of a simple, peasant dish, much appreciated by young and old alike.
  • Bombette pugliesi, Apulian bombette, which consists of rolled pork, stuffed with Canestrato pugliese, bacon or other meats and flavoured with chopped parsley, salt and pepper. They are usually round in shape, hence the name "bombette".

Vastedda della Valle del Belice PDO

Moving on to Sicily, in the municipalities of Agrigento, Trapani and Palermo, it's time to tuck into the last Italian cheese on our tour which is also one of the most popular cheeses in Italy: Vastedda della Valle del Belice. Made with sheep's milk from the Valle del Belice breed, it is a sheep's cheese that has a fresh taste, with acidic notes.

Vastedda PDO
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Platos típicos con Vastedda della Valle del Belice:

  • Focaccia con Vastedda e pomodori secchi, focaccia with Vastedda and dried tomatoes, a really delicious sandwich. A crunchy focaccia full of dried tomatoes and Vastedda - for real connoisseurs and traditional Italian food lovers!
  • Risotto mantecato con Vastedda, risotto con Vastedda, a risotto for those who love cheese and strong flavours. This dish has an explosive blend given by the aroma of Vastedda del Belice, combined with oil flavoured with capers, chilli and wild fennel.
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