Cheese was first created thousands of years ago due to the need to preserve milk for longer. It is an irresistibly delicious product whose flavour embodies countless lands, pastures and pieces of ancient knowledge. Europe has some of the broadest and most fascinating cheese heritage in the world. The continent is renowned for the variety, quality and wholesomeness of the ingredients used and the originality of the products. In Italy alone there are more than 500 different types of cheese, many of which are famous and popular in other countries.
Cheese is natural, healthy and nutritious. It is made with whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk or cream, in a procedure that causes coagulation. The technique used depends on the type of cheese being made. Thanks to the masterful skills of Italian cheese makers, hundreds of products with different textures and tastes can all be made with just one ingredient. Cheese really comes to life during the ageing process, during which a wide range of sensory properties develop and its appearance and aromas change.
Cheese has many great nutritional qualities, so it is a comprehensive source of nourishment. It contains the majority of the nutrients that can be found in milk and it is packed with high-quality protein and energy. In addition, it is a source of minerals and in particular bioavailable calcium, which plays an essential part in keeping teeth and bones healthy, as well as in muscle contractions and nerve impulses. Furthermore, it contains vitamin A and a number of B vitamins. Cheese’s high protein, calcium and fat content and the fact that it is easy to digest mean that it is recommended for everyone and especially for weaning babies and growing children.
Cheese can be classified by the type of milk used (from cows, sheep, goats, buffaloes or mixed), the fat content (low fat, medium fat and high fat), the moisture content (soft, semi-hard and hard), the ageing time (fresh or short, medium and long ageing times) and the cheese making temperature (uncooked, semi-cooked and cooked).
These are “young” cheeses with a mild, delicate flavour that do not require ageing. They are normally rindless and they should be eaten within a few days or weeks of being made. Their textures vary significantly, depending on the moisture content, but they tend to be very soft. In addition, the higher the fat content, the richer and creamier they will be.
This is an extremely varied category of cheeses with soft, smooth and moist textures, which may or may not have a rind. The ageing process can last anywhere between a few days and several months. The cheeses have a mild flavour and a pleasant milky aroma. The moisture content is high, at over 45%. Taleggio, Caciotta, Crescenza and Gorgonzola are some of the best known cheeses of this kind, but the category also includes “creamy” cheese with an extremely soft, spreadable texture.
These cheeses have a moisture content of between 35% and 45% and they are firmer and more compact, so they are easy to slice. They have stronger and more aromatic flavours due to their medium-length ageing processes, which can last a number of months in some cases. Examples include Fontina, Asiago and Provolone, which are easier to digest than fresh cheeses thanks to the ageing process.
These cheeses have distinctive production procedures and compared to other varieties, they undergo longer, slower ageing processes that give them fuller flavours and can last a number of years. They are firm and highly palatable, with long shelf lives and a relatively low moisture content that is usually less than 35%. Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano are two internationally renowned Italian hard cheeses that are popular with consumers due to their sapid qualities and rich, quintessential aromas.
PDO AND PGI CHEESES
The Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) regimes certify and protect European cheese-making quality and traditions. They identify distinctive products whose distinguishing features are linked to factors such as origins and processing in a specific geographical area, the use of production techniques that have been handed down over time, and sensory properties that stem from unique aspects of the surrounding environments, including natural and manmade elements. The PDO and PGI protective labelling schemes are recognized by the European Union and they provide a clear, simple way of highlighting the outstanding qualities of exceptional European cheeses and their origins.