Reporter: Dan Spinoso
This is going to sound cheesy.
Cheese is an essential ingredient in almost every type of Italian dish. It comes in many different forms and is used in many different ways. While there are many delicious Italian cheeses, there are only handfuls that stand out above the rest.
First, there’s mozzarella and bocconcini. These two are alike and the latter usually comes in a round ball. Then there’s Gorgonzola, a blue cheese that comes in a variety of textures and parmigiano reggiano, better known as parmesan. The English language adopted the name Parmesan from French.
There is also asiago. It can form different textures depending on its age. Romano and grana padano are both hard and usually grated. Grana padano was one of the very first cheeses that had a hard feel. Then there are also softer cheeses like provolone, mascarpone and ricotta.
“The majority of these cheeses, I would use for pizzas,” said Kelsey’s manager Andrea Elder. “Making a classic tiramisu with mascarpone is one of the best ways to showcase this decadent cheese.”
Elder has been in the hospitality industry for eight years and has her own catering business called Nonna’s Kitchen Inc., where she uses her favourite cheese, ricotta for its ability to take on many different flavours.
Dave Hawey has been a culinary professor at Durham College since July. He has been cooking for 30 years and he’s been a chef for 22 of those years. He also has his favourite cheeses.
“Provolone and parmigianio reggiano are my favourites. Provolone because of its mild taste and versatility in cooking – from sandwich making to antipasto plates, pizzas and even desserts,” he said.
Delicious cheeses bring back memories for Hawey.
“I was in a parmigiano reggiano ageing warehouse in Italy last year with over 30,000 35kg wheels,” he said. “The smell was incredible. We ate chunks of it with reduced balsamic vinegar and drank some beautiful Chianti.
Hawey says some of the cheeses are easily comparable.
“Mozzarella and bocconcini with balsamic (vinegar) and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is a welcome staple of the summer.”
“If you’re lucky, you’ll have the opportunity to try smoked mozzarella – all that stringy goodness with a sharp smoke flavour,” he added.
Elder also found cheeses to be comparable.
“There are different grades of cheese. You have your soft cheeses like ricotta and mascarpone, which are great for sweet and savory (cooking). There are semi-soft cheeses like bocconcini and provolone, (which) are great melting cheeses,” she said. “Next you have hard cheeses like grana padano, parmigiano reggiano and romano (which) are great for grating over your favourite pasta.”
“Last but not least, you have Gorgonzola, a wonderful blue cheese,” she added.
Hawey said Gorgonzola might be the Italian cheese maker’s finest accomplishment.
When comparing Italy’s cheese to non-Italian cheeses, Elder sees a difference: “I think Italian cheeses have more passion and care than a lot of other cheeses,” she said. “A lot of other cheeses use artificial colours and ingredients. Italian cheeses are made so pure, with recipes passed down for centuries.”
Elder and Hawey said Italian cheeses are generally very easy to cook with. Hawey suggested not adding them too early to sauces or they will seize up and become tough dried chunks instead of (a) creamy, rich enhancement to the sauce.