Like France, and dare I say it, England, Italy has an abundance of cheese. Several whole genres of cheese originated in this hot, varied, complex boot of a country sticking out into the Med like a kick in our collective cuisine. Where would we be without pizza, what would we put on out pasta?
There are over 2500 traditional cheese varieties in Italy. A massive 34 Italian cheeses have been granted a protected status by the European commission, many of which have origins that go back, back before the dawn of history itself. Most of the stories behind Italian cheese are ancient, apocryphal or simply made up. The real stories of their creation can be lost in time...
Not only does Italy stand out as a cheese champ, but it has also influenced and in fact activated cheese making all over Europe.
In a way, much of the history of cheese can be tracked back to Italy or at least the empires of the Mediterranean. The Romans loved cheese, made cheese and spread their skills wherever their hungry garrisons planted a heavily armoured sandal.
They took it pretty seriously - Roman homes even had a special room called a caseale, where cheeses were made, and stored. Pecorino Romano, a sweet sheep’s milk cheese, probably originated in Roman times.
Later, in the Middle Ages, monasteries became centres of cheese-making excellence, and the spiritual glory of cheese followed them as far North as Wensleydale in Yorkshire!
Italy’s cheeses are also wonderfully regional. The grasslands of Lombardy in the north produce lush Taleggio, Grana Padano and Gorgonzola. Soft burrata comes from the south, and its little cousins bocconcini from Naples... and only cheese produced in Reggio Emilia, Modena, Southern Mantova, and Parma can be called Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Perhaps no other national cuisine is so entangled with the glorious array of cheeses as Italian cooking, with the local cheese defining so many dishes of national, and global, significance.
With almost every kind of milk, cow, goat, ewe, buffalo, and a host of unique styles, Italian cheese is a whole, wonderful world of flavours, textures. Dip in and explore, it is rewarding, fascinating and absolutely delicious.