Lasagna is an Italian layered casserole that is traditionally constructed with wide noodles, a tomato-based sauce and a variety of cheeses that is baked. Some recipes include meat as a sauce ingredient and others include various vegetables in the sauce or layers. While you can use any cheese you like, there are four kinds most commonly used to make lasagna.
Ricotta is a white, soft cheese made from milk curds. It has a mild taste and is traditionally seasoned with salt and pepper and mixed with parsley and beaten eggs when used as a lasagna layer. Cottage cheese is a common substitute for ricotta in lasagna recipes.
Mozzarella cheese is sold in two varieties, fresh and pressed, and made from either cow or buffalo milk. Fresh mozzarella is very soft, resembles cream cheese and is usually sliced thin for lasagna layers or to top pizza. The pressed variety is semi-soft and a good grating and melting cheese, most widely known as the stringy cheese on conventional pizza. Both types are found in lasagna recipes, although pressed mozzarella is most common.
Similar to pressed mozzarella in appearance, provolone has a more distinct flavor but does not melt as well. Provolone is semi-soft when it is young and becomes semi-hard when aged. In lasagna, provolone is often grated and mixed with mozzarella to create layers in the dish.
Parmesan may be mixed with other layering ingredients in lasagna or only used on the top layer of tomato sauce. It is a hard cheese normally finely grated to accent its flavors. Romano or asiago cheese can successfully substitute for Parmesan in lasagna.
Some cooks prefer mascarpone cheese instead of ricotta in their lasagna and frequently mix the two for added texture and flavor. Mascarpone is thinner than ricotta and has a rich, buttery consistency and taste. Jack or Monterey Jack cheese is sometimes mixed with the mozzarella or provolone or used instead of them in lasagna. Jack cheese is semi-hard with a light cheddar taste and has good melting properties.
Authentic Italian lasagna is often made with a cheese-infused béchamel sauce instead of layers of cheese. Béchamel is a simple white sauce made with flour, butter and milk and, for lasagna, is thickened and flavored with one of the aforementioned cheeses. It rises to the top of the lasagna during baking and creates a lighter dish than a recipe with layers of cheese.