A GUIDE TO ITALIAN CHEESE
Like its francophone neighbour, Italy boasts an array of regional cheeses – each suited to a special course or occasion – which is why cheese is often considered the “prince of the Italian table”. Indeed, whenever there is a gathering in Italy, you can be sure that cheese will be an integral part of the proceedings, whether as an appetiser, as part of the main course, or for dessert (or all three) – and most often paired with a good wine. For decades, though, South Africans’ impression of Italian cheese has been skewed by badly made, Italian-inspired cheeses… processed or otherwise. But thanks to carefully curated collections, like Checkers’ Forage and Feast range, Italian cheese is now widely available across the country. So if you’re new to the joys of Italian formaggio, these are just some of my favourites.
There are some who feel that Bocconcini and Mozzarella should technically be classified as two different cheeses, but both originated in Naples, and both are made of the milk of water buffalo, whose milk is high in fat and protein. The two also have a very similar flavour profile. So, to most of us, they’re the same cheese, except for one distinguishing factor. The clue is in the name. Bocconcini translates as “little mouthfuls” in Italian, which means the shape is the only real difference between the two.
Serving suggestion: Enjoy with roasted garlic, cherry tomatoes, thyme and olive oil
To the naked eye, Burrata looks no different to a regular ball of mozzarella… until you slice into it. As you pierce the solid mozzarella shell, a decadent centre of mozzarella shreds soaked in cream is revealed. Think of burrata as a creamier version of mozzarella, perfect for spreading over fresh toasted bread with a sprinkling of flaky salt.
Serving suggestion: Simply drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper on crusty bread
FIOR DI LATTE
When translated directly, fior di latte translates as “flower of milk”, owing to the fact that it is made of the highest quality, grass-fed cow’s milk. When a cow is grass-fed, its milk has a bolder dairy flavour. In shape and texture, though, fior di latte resembles mozzarella – and has a similar taste, although a more discerning palate would be able to pick up the difference.
Serving suggestion: Give it the savoury treatment with a garnish of deep-fried capers, finely chopped Kalamata olives and a generous drizzle of olive oil
Often mistakenly categorised as cream cheese, mascarpone is a silken, smooth and mild cheese made of heavy cream, whereas cream cheese is made from full cream milk. Cream cheese also has a more savoury taste, whereas mascarpone has a more dessert-like quality owing to its less acidic flavour profile. But mascarpone is the ultimate blank canvas, equally at home in a savoury dish like lasagne when mixed with herbs and parmesan cheese, or as the defining ingredient in a tiramisu.
Serving suggestion: Sweeten it up with a drizzle of honey and a handful of figs
MOZZARELLA DI BUFALA
Although few people make the distinction nowadays, mozzarella di bufala is the original mozzarella, and made from the milk of water buffalo. It’s a lot scarcer than its cow’s milk counterpart, which explains the price point, but it’s richer, bolder in flavour and sweeter. A true pull-all-the-stops, prince of the Italian table.
Serving suggestion: For a light lunch, toast some crusty bread to make bruschetta, and enjoy with Forage and Feast Rhubarb Preserves with Ginger, chopped olives, flaky salt, freshly ground ginger and a drizzle of olive oil
This is the ultimate leftover cheese. In short, ricotta means “recooked” and was classically made from what remained after the cheesemaking process, which mostly comprised of whey. For this reason, there are some who feel that it’s not technically a cheese but a latticino (a dairy by-product). It’s used all over Italy, and one of the most important ingredients in the Italian kitchen.
Serving suggestion: For a fresh and delicious end to a leisurely lunch, enjoy with red grapes and pistachios