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Asiago

Although made in the United States, this cow's milk cheese gets its name from from the village of Asiago in northern Italy. Of the two types, Asiago d'allevo and Asiago pressato, only the d'allevo is available in the United States. The d'allevo is made from partially skimmed cow's milk and is beige in color with distinctive tiny holes running throughout the cheese. When ripe, the cheese can be soft and makes for a great table cheese; but when aged for a year or longer, it is used as a grading cheese. The flavor is rich, somewhat nutty, but mild. Often you will find Asiago served in restaurants as a substitute for Parmesan because it's cheaper. If you have a choice, ask for Parmesan. The milder, sweeter Asiago pressato is made from pasteurized whole milk, is aged only for a short time, and is not exported to the U.S.

Gorgonzola

Named for the Italian city where it is made, this cow's milk cheese is rich and creamy with a slightly pungent flavor. When aged over 6 months, both the flavor and the aroma become stronger....much stronger. Some people think it's stinky; if you like strong cheese, though, you will love gorgonzola.

Livarot

One of France's oldest, this is a wonderful cheese named after a village in Normandy and whose nickname is the Colonel because it is bound with five strips of paper that look like a Colonel's stripes. Originally, the stripes were made of natural rush harvested from the edge of ponds. This is a strong cheese with lots of flavor (beefy, nutty) and a pungent aroma. (If it has a smell of ammonia, it is past its prime.) Livarot is made from cow's milk but has only a 40% fat content. It is naturally white but colored orangy-red with a tincture from a South American tree called the roucou. It has a soft washed rind, is round with a 12 cm diameter, and is 5 cm thick. Livarot goes great with a big red wine as well as with apple cider. Try it with bread and/or fruit, especially apples and pears.

Mascarpone

Made in Italy from cow's cream, mascarpone is a buttery double to triple cream cheese. With an ivory color, smooth texture, and cream-like flavor, it is often blended with other ingredients (topped with fruit, for example). It's sold in 8-oz. and 1-pound containers. Because it is hard to find in this country, you may have to look in a good cheese shop or specialty market for mascarpone.

Mozzarella

Mozzarella is a soft, white cheese with a mild flavor typically made from cow’s milk. It came from southern Italy where it was originally made from buffalo milk. If you are lucky enough to find real buffalo mozzarella in your local market, try it. Although expensive, it’s like eating ice cream compared to frozen yogurt.

Morbier

Named for a little farm town in France, this semi-soft cow's cheese was originally made with leftover cheese for personal consumption by the cheesemakers. At the end of the day, the cheesemaker would take leftover curd from making Gruyère de Comté and press it into a mold. To keep it from drying out and to keep the insects away, he/she would top it off with a little ash. In the morning, he/she would add any additional curd on top of the ash and you had Morbier.

Pecorino

From the word pecora, which means "ewe" in Italian, cheeses made from sheep's milk in Italy are called pecorino. Although the majority of pecorino is made in southern Italy, especially Sardinia, the best known pecorino is Pecorino Romano. Genuine Romano is only produced in the province of Rome from November to June. Locatelli is an excellent type of Pecorino. It's wonderful grated on pasta dishes or plain at the end of a meal with a glass of red wine. Pecorino is straw colored, 36% fat, semi-hard, and granular with a smooth rind coated in oil. It comes in a cylindrical shape about 12 inches in diameter, 16 inches tall. Although a little sharper than Parmesan, Pecorino is often substituted when used in cooking. It has an intensely strong sheepy quality to it. It is to southern Italy what Parmigiano-Reggiano is to the north. Look for the sheep's head logo with Pecorino Romano embossed on the rind to make sure you are getting the real stuff.

Romano

Romano, one of the world’s oldest and favorite cheeses, comes from just outside beautiful Rome. Romano’s original name was Pecorino-Romano. Romano is very important in central and southern Italy. Many people eat Romano every day on pasta, with a loaf of bread, fresh out of the wood-fire, or with some spinach sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Romano has a creamy white color, sharp piquant flavor, and a hard granular texture. Romano can be used in many of the same menu applications as Parmesan, especially when a more pronounced cheese flavor is desired.There are several different styles of Romano cheese, all of which take their name from the city of Rome. Probably the best known is the sharp, tangy Pecorino-Romano, made with sheep’s milk. Caprino Romano is an extremely sharp goat’s milk version. Vacchino Romano is a very mild cow’s milk cheese. All Romano cheese is made by a special method known as “rummaging curd,” or draining the curd quickly after molding and then piercing the surfaces slightly before salt is applied.

The first thing to know about Pecorino Romano, on which many people don’t focus, is that it is a DOC cheese. This means it is strictly controlled by the Italian Government and must be made according to certain specifications to be called Pecorino Romano. It has to be round in shape, between forty to sixty pounds approximately, aged a minimum of six months, be produced in either Lazio or Sardegna between October and July, be made of one hundred percent sheep’s milk, and have the marking of a sheep from the producer. The milk comes from sheep raised in the countryside of Rome. These sheep produce only small quantities of milk that is very rich in fat and protein. This thus allows for an exceptionally creamy, flavorful cheese.

Sheep’s milk products offer a number of benefits. These cheeses break down into smaller molecules in the body, thus allowing for better digestion. Many lactose intolerant people find that they can enjoy sheep’s mild cheeses without repercussions to their health. Romano cheese grates larger so that it does not disappear in food; rather, it creates a hearty flavor while enabling you to use less cheese. There are a variety of uses for Romano cheese in recipes. Romano cheese can be served as a side dish with pasta dishes. Romano cheese adds a pleasing note to pizza made with a zesty garlic-tomato sauce and spicy sausage. Chefs serve Romano cheese as a garnish over cream soups, pasta, or fresh green salads. Another garnish idea is to sprinkle fresh grated Romano over egg dishes, such as quiche or frittatas.

Parmesan

There are Parmesan cheeses made all over the world, but there is only one Parmigiano-Reggiano. Although more expensive, this granular textured cheese--the processing method of which hasn't changed in the last 700 years--is usually aged for 2 years. If labeled stravecchio, the cheese is aged 3 years; if labeled stravecchiones, the cheese is aged 4 years. Here are two reasons why Parmigiano-Reggiano has better taste and consistency: 1. the flavor of the milk that comes from cows whose diets are strictly controlled and 2. the strict production codes that have kept the cheesemaking the same for centuries. Only fresh milk, rennet, and salt are allowed in the dairy. However, in 1984, the laws changed to allow the entire year's production be branded Parmigiano-Reggiano. Prior to 1984, only the cheese produced between April and November could be labeled such.

Sainte-Maure Ash

This log-shaped goat cheese is from an area in France called the Touraine. It's made from goat's milk (45% fat) and is soft with a natural rind. This cheese is great plain or with mixed greens salads.

Camembert

Created in 1789 by Marie Harel, a peasant woman who was said to have been christened by Napoleon himself, this cow's milk cheese (40 to 45 percent fat) is world renown. Eleven centimeters in diameter and 3 to 4 centimeters thick, this smooth creamy cheese with a soft white rind should be served at room temperature when perfectly ripe. You'll know it's perfectly ripe when it oozes thickly; if it's runny, it is overripe.