According to Steven Jenkins, the first American to be welcomed into the exclusive French gastronomic society, Chevalier du Taste-Fromage, the cheeses of Italy are as ancient as any in the world. A few of them, like Mozzarella and Pecorino Romano are well-known to Americans while others are sold almost exclusively in the regions where they are produced.
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Mozzarella di Bufala
Made in the areas south and west of Naples from the milk of water buffalo, this special form of soft, white mozzarella cheese is widely available in American groceries. According to Jenkins, after retreating Nazis killed the water buffalo herds at the end of World War II, area cheesemakers imported more from India and the herds have thrived ever since. Mozzarella is a fresh cheese. The Italian mozzarella di bufala that you buy in your grocery store is usually less than a week old. Cow's milk mozzarella is less expensive than buffalo mozzarella and equally popular, especially as a topping melted on pizza. Mozzarella cheese is surprisingly simple to make at home using fresh milk and citric acid. A classic way to serve fresh mozzarella cheese is as part of a classic caprese salad consisting of nothing more than alternating slices of cheese and fresh, ripe tomatoes topped with torn basil leaves and drizzled with good quality olive oil.
Most regions in southern Italy produce some version of the tangy, hard sheep's milk cheese known as Pecorino. The best known is probably Pecorino Romano produced in and around Lazio near Rome, and also in Sardinia. Other popular Pecorino cheeses are Toscano and Rossellino. The flavors vary slightly depending partly on the vegetation in the region where the sheep graze.
People sometimes confuse Pecorino cheese with the other popular hard-grating cheese, Parmigiano, which is a cow's milk cheese. Like Pecorino, Parmigiano is delicious eaten plain with a good red wine.
Gorgonzola comes from the Lombardy region in far northern Italy. Gorgonzola is a cow's milk cheese. Artisinal, small-batch Gorgonzola is made through a layering process whereby nearly-drained, cooled curd is placed in a wooden mold and then layered with still-warm curd from a subsequent milking. Gorgonzola may be dolce (sweet) or naturale (sharp). Dolce Gorgonzola is typically aged about three months, while naturale is aged longer and has a firmer texture. Gorgonzola is delicious crumbled in salad, melted under a broiler on a split baguette, or even served atop gingersnap cookies with a drizzle of honey.