You have hundreds of Italian cheeses to choose from, but not all of these cheeses are available in America. Here are some of the most popular and useful Italian cheeses that you should be able to find at your local supermarket or cheese shop:
Fontina: Real Fontina cheese from Valle d’Aosta in the far north is rich and creamy with a buttery, nutty flavor. Fontina never gets runny like brie, but it shouldn’t be firm, either.
Avoid Fontina from other sources. Most supermarkets carry a rubbery, bland Fontina cheese from Denmark or Sweden with a texture more like Cheddar and absolutely no flavor.
Gorgonzola: Italy’s prized blue cheese can be made in various styles. Sometimes Gorgonzola is dry and crumbly and has an intense blue cheese flavor, sometimes it’s milder and creamier.
Mascarpone: This Italian version of cream cheese often appears in desserts. You can also use Mascarpone to enrich pasta sauces or fillings. Mascarpone has a light, creamy texture and buttery flavor.
Mozzarella: The original mozzarella was made from the milk of water buffalo and was called mozzarella di bufala. Most fresh mozzarella is made from cow’s milk and called fiore di latte. The flavor is milky and sweet, and the texture is springy, yet yielding.
Parmesan: Parmigiano-Reggiano is the king of Italian cheeses. Another Italian Parmesan cheese, called Grana Padano, is quite good, but nothing compares to the real thing.
Pecorino: Traditionally made from sheep’s milk, although some manufacturers add some cow’s milk to reduce the pungency or save money. Like Parmesan, aged Pecorino is designed for grating, but it has a much saltier and more pungent flavor.
Ricotta: Ricotta should be creamy and thick, not watery and curdish like so many supermarket brands sold in plastic containers.