With approximately 450 types of cheese, Italy ranks behind only Britain and France in the number of cheeses, which include well known varieties such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella, Asiago and pecorino. The European Commission grants special protection to 34 Italian cheeses.
Parmigiano-Reggiano, the high-quality original Italian version of Parmesan, is a hard, salty cheese from the central Italian region around Bologna. It probably the most famous Italian cheese after mozzarella, and many individuals grate it over pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano tastes best when purchased whole rather than pre-grated. Some cooks also use the leftover rind to add flavor to soups and stews.
Mozzarella is the most popular Italian cheese, though the mass-produced version found in American stores varies slightly from the traditional variety, which is less elastic. To keep traditional mozzarella fresh, producers store it in water brine or whey, keeping it sharp and white.
Asiago originates in the Veneto region of Nothern Italy and is associated with Venice and Trieste. The cheese is mild and filled with small holes. Producers age some varieties for longer to produce sharper flavors.
Made from sheep's milk rather than cow's milk, pecorino is a hard cheese similar in some ways to Parmesan, but with a stronger flavor. Italians often grate it over fresh tomato pasta. Pecorino varies by the region in which it is produced, such as Tuscany and Sardinia.