|Myself and my grandfather|
As you walk in my dad’s store, you couldn’t help smell the aromas of all the Italian cheeses hanging from the ceiling. Big round ones, long ones and small ones were all hanging on hooks with ropes next to the salami’s and prosciutto. It was a sight to see! As you looked all around some of the cheeses were opened in the window cases so you can see the inside of the tasty savory cheeses. As you can see, I grew up with these cheeses and I am very proud to have been in a family that enjoys this culture and celebrates its tradition.
The month of June is “National Dairy Month,” so let’s travel to Italy and explore the many types of truly authentic Italian Cheeses that are indispensable for adding delicious flavors to the many dishes of the Italian culture. There are about 300 types of Italian cheeses. Some are hard, some are semi-soft and then there are just the soft types, so I would love to share with you 5 of the most popular Italian cheeses that are used today.
Mozzarella: is traditionally made from Buffalo milk in southern Italy (Campania region) and has a taste that is mild and delicate. It is now made world wide from cow’s milk. Its texture is soft and chewy. Mozzarella is the key ingredient in Italian pizza and lasagna can also be fried in a stick shape which is a popular appetizer in restaurants.
Ricotta: is a traditional, creamy mild whey cheese made from cow’s or sheep’s milk. It is white and wet, moist but not sticky. Ricotta should be firm, but not solid. It is primarily used in lasagna, can be used as a white pizza and is widely used in many other Italian specialty dishes.
Mascarpone: is a soft, white, fresh, vegetarian, cream cheese made in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. In fact, it really is not considered a cheese at all, but rather the result of a culture being added to the cream skimmed off the milk, used in the production of Parmesan. It has a mild flavor and it is used as a substitute for whipped cream. Mascarpone is easy to spread and can be added to famous Italian desserts, sometimes accompanied by cognac. Mascarpone is the secret of a good Tiramisu recipe.
Pecorino: is the name given to all Italian cheeses made from sheep’s milk. Pecora in Italian means sheep and it is one of Italy’s oldest cheeses. Pecorino Romano is the name given to cheeses from the Rome area, Pecorino Sardo is from Sardinia, Pecorino Siciliano is from Sicily. Also known as Locatelli which is the brand name of Pecorino Romano. It is a traditional creamery, hard, drum cheese made from sheep’s milk. The smooth hard rind is pale straw to dark brown in color. The interior color is white to pale yellow. It takes 8 to 12 months to mature, during which time it develops its characteristic flavor which is salty, with a fruity tang that becomes steadily more robust. Pecorino is a very tasty product and it is used in recipes like baked ravioli, grated or shaved on sauces and pasta dishes.
“Gustare il formaggio e il vino.” (enjoy your cheese and wine)
This weekend’s recipe celebrates a lovely refreshing dish made with Mozzarella Cheese, called:
“Insalata Caprese” (salad in the style of Capri)
1 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2-3 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Fresh basil leaves (about 10)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of drained capers (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a circular design around the side of a serving plate, alternate fresh mozzarella slices on a large platter with sliced tomatoes, overlapping for effect. Tear fresh basil leaves and sprinkle liberally over the slices. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Sprinkle capers over the top if using them. Just before serving drizzle on top with quality extra-virgin olive oil. Can be served with crusty Italian bread and an array of other appetizers.
***Note: Insalata Caprese should never be allowed to sit in oil for any length of time and become soggy, and no vinegar of any kind goes on true Insalata Caprese!
Till next time……..
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