Italy produces some of the most famous cheeses in the world and is the third-largest cheese producer in the European Union. The countless flavors, textures, and recipes of Italy’s cheeses derive from all over the country and are made from various animals’ milk, including cows, goats, sheep, and buffalo. While some cheeses are best used in cooking with dishes like lasagna, tortellini, and cacio e Pepe, other cheeses, like Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, are eaten on their own or as a garnish to elevate dishes. The possibilities are endless with Italian cheeses and the over 450 varieties.
The following list of 12 of the best cheeses to try in Italy unveils the diversity of Italian cheeses, providing an explanation of their particular attributes from flavor to texture, aroma, to common food pairings. It also shares the locations that they are typically produced in, recognized by authenticated labels so that you can plan a trip to specific regions depending on the cheese you wish to try.
The famous Italian blue cheese is made from cow’s milk and has a crumbly or firm texture. The flavor ranges from mild to sharp depending on the age of maturation and presents a nutty aroma. Gorgonzola is known for the blue-veins growing through the cheese, taking approximately three to four months to fully ripen. It has been produced in the town of the same name since the 9th century with two distinct varieties; Dolce Gorgonzola and Mountain Gorgonzola. The DOP label requires gorgonzola to be produced according to certain traditional methods in the specific areas of Lombardy and Piedmont.
The pasteurized cow’s milk cheese is soft, with buttery, creamy, and smooth textures. The fresh aroma and semi-sweet flavor work in both desserts and savory dishes. The traditional mascarpone is made in Lombardy without the need for a starter or rennet, and the soft and semi-sweet cheese is the star in dishes like tiramisu and cheesecakes. It also pairs well with fresh berries, nuts, cocoa, and espresso, as well as enhances flavors when paired with anchovies, mustard, and other savory spices. You can eat in style like the locals at cafés in the metropolis of Milan, Lombardy next time you visit Italy.
Mozzarella di Bufala is made from the pasteurized milk of water buffalo and results in a soft cheese with a creamy, smooth, and springy texture with a fresh milky aroma. The floral flavor can also have a touch of lingering sourness from the type of milk used. The legendary cheese is a delicacy of Campania and has bagged a DOP label to protect the authenticity of the local cheese-making traditions and the quality standards from the region. When visiting Campania, you can introduce your taste buds to the semi-elastic textured cheese belonging to the pasta filata family in classic dishes such as lasagna or pairs with salads and pastas.
Ricotta cheese is made from pasteurized or unpasteurized milk from cows, goats, sheep, or water buffalos. The fresh, firm quality has a creamy, fluffy, and even grainy texture, and Ricotta has a sweet flavor with a milky aroma. The cheese derives from the filtered whey taken during the cheese-making process. It typically has a smoother texture than cottage cheese and a milder, sweeter flavor without extra salt or ripening. The famous cheese, a perfect companion to pasta and salads when grated or used in lasagne, manicotti, and pizza, has origins in Sicily, a stunning region you will be thrilled to visit in search of the famous cheese.
Pecorino Toscano is made from sheep’s milk and has a hard texture. The cheese is fresh with mild hints of lemon, developing bolder hints of honey when matured for up to a year. Fresh Pecorino Toscano is aged for 30 days, and the DOP designation requires Pecorino Toscano to be produced using specific methods within the borders of the Tuscany region. The cheese typically pairs with salads, raw vegetables, mushrooms, and Tuscan breads. Pecorino Toscano also pairs well with cold cuts or honey.
Pecorino Romano, typically aged between eight to 12 months, is made from sheep’s milk and has a hard, crumbly, and grainy texture. It generally has a sharp, smokey, and spicy flavor with a robust and nutty aroma. The cheese dates back to Roman times as a staple of the soldier’s diet, mentioned by historians like Pliny the Elder and Hippocrates. The DOP status of Pecorino Romano ensures production methods maintain the same sense of history and tradition in its distinct areas of origin in Sardinia and Lazio.
Burrata is a fresh cheese made from cow’s milk and is famous for its creamy, buttery texture. The freshness of burrata cheese leads to a short shelf-life, requiring the cheese to be eaten within days of its production. After 48 hours, the cheese is considered past its prime. Made by filling a sack of fresh mozzarella with cream or butter, the luscious creamy interior oozes out over the plate upon consumption, necessitating the cheese to be eaten in one sitting. If you wish to try this unique Italian cheese, then you will want to plan a trip to the Murgia province within the southern region of Puglia.
Caciocavallo is a soft, springy, and stringy cheese made from cow’s or sheep’s milk, and it has a sharp flavor with spicy and tangy notes and a strong earthy aroma. The classic cheese is now one of the predominant cheeses produced in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy. When aged, caciocavallo develops a sharper flavor but retains a creamy quality. The cheese matures for approximately three months before taking on a meaty flavor with hints of anise and almonds. The distinct flavor and stunning texture of the cheese pairs well with salami, fruit, and Primitivo red wine as you gaze over cascading vineyards.
Parmigiano Reggiano is made from raw cow’s milk for a hard, crumbly texture. Typical Parmigiano Reggiano has a sweet and fruity flavor with a sharp, nutty quality and intense aroma. The distinctive aromas and flavors of Parmigiano Reggiano grow stronger during the maturation process, taking between 18 to 24 months but can last for up to 36 months. The DOP designation of Parmigiano Reggiano requires that cheese-makers adhere to the traditional practices and historic flavors of the cheese through the cultivation, processing, and sale inside the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Mantua.
Grana Padano is made from cow’s milk and has a hard texture with crumbly, crystalline, flaky, and grainy characteristics. The cheese can age up to 30 months for a more robust and complex flavor blending nutty, savory, and sweet notes. The DOP status of Grana Padano ensures producers follow the methods first practiced by the Cistercian monks who invented the cheese, requiring production to happen in the areas of Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Trentino, and Emilia-Romagna. You may tuck into Grana Padano as a snack paired with figs, dried fruit, sliced apples, and honey, as well as with olives or cured meats.
Asiago is a firm, cooked, and pressed cheese made from cow’s milk aged up to two years. The cheese can be shredded to compliment pasta or to be used in risottos and traditional soups or sliced thinly and served over fruit or warm bread. The DOP designation of Asiago requires the cheese to be produced using specific methods in the regions of Trentino and Veneto, along the eastern-most section of the Italian Alps. As you tour the Trentino and Veneto regions of Italy, be on the lookout for Asiago cheese stamped with a “product of the mountains” label that connotes the cheese was made at an altitude greater than 1,968 feet above sea level.
Provolone cheese is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk and has a semi-hard texture with firm and grainy characteristics. The flavor of Provolone ranges from buttery to sharp and from sweet to tangy, and its iconic status as Italy’s national cheese means that you cannot skip a chance to try it when visiting the country. The designation of DOP requires the cheese to be produced in locations like Lombardy, Piedmont, and Veneto, using specific methods that guarantee superior quality.
Italy has a long culinary history dating back to Roman times and cheese has remained an integral part of that heritage. From the strong flavors of Gorgonzola near the vineyards of Lombardy to the spicy aromas of Fontina in the Aosta Valley, you can tuck into the best Italian cheese on select tours available on our Italy Vacation Page. You can find more inspiration for your culinary trip with our Italy Travel Guide. Or, get further advice and other helpful tips from our travel specialists by simply filling out a Trip Request or contacting us on 1-888-265-9707.