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The Best Soft Italian Cheeses

the-best-soft-italian-cheeses

The Best Soft Italian Cheeses – Burrata (very rich and creamy), Mozzarella (buffalo or cow’s mil), Ricotta (curd-style cheese), Stracciatella

Many of Italy’s best cheeses are so beloved, they’ve been recognized as DOP products for their high quality, local production, and traditional recipes. (Here’s more about Italy’s DOP foods and what DOP really means). In fact, historic cheese-producing towns take great pride in their characteristic cheese; you’ll often find signs boasting local products (like “Home of Fontina”!) as you pass through. After all, some Italian towns have been using the same tradition for over 1,000 years.

When tasting Italy’s cheeses, therefore, always look for the “DOP” seal—it’s the best guarantee that what you are tasting is what the product is supposed to be.


Best Soft Italian Cheeses – Burrata


Best-Soft-Italian-Cheeses-Burrata

Best Soft Italian Cheeses – Burrata

A close relative to mozzarella, burrata is a richly creamy cheese from the south of Italy. It has a distinctive soft, almost liquid center which often seems ready to burst at any moment—so handle with care.

Traditionally burrata is encased in the leaves of a lily plant and brined. However, you’ll most likely come across it knotted or tied up with string and brined in a plastic container.

Burrata is delicious on bruschetta or as a creamy upgrade to a Caprese salad, but you can pretty much use it anywhere you would fresh mozzarella


Soft Italian Cheeses – Marscapone


Marscapone

Soft Italian Cheeses – Marscapone

Smooth and rich, mascarpone is the creamiest cheese on our list. In fact, it’s more like a double cream than a cheese in its taste, texture, and production.

Mascarpone is made from cow’s milk cream that has been thickened, or coagulated, with the addition of an acidic element such as lemon juice. It’s then heated, strained, and chilled to a thick but spreadable consistency.

Mascarpone is most famously used in tiramisu but doubles as a rich substitute for whipped or double cream (or works in combination with the two, like in this chocolate-chip icebox cake recipe). Thanks to its high fat content, it can simply be spooned over simple desserts and pairs well on its own with ripe fruit.


Soft Italian Cheeses – Mozzarella


Italian-Cheeses-Mozzarella

Soft Italian Cheeses – Mozzarella

Mozzarella is arguably the most popular of all of the Italian cheeses (though our good friend Parmesan might beg to differ). Traditionally mozzarella was made out of buffalo milk, but today many producers opt for less expensive cow’s milk. The original is creamier and lighter than the cow’s milk variants, so if you really want to treat your guests (or yourself), go for ‘Mozzarella di Bufala.’

There are many kinds of mozzarella on the market. ‘Bocconcini’ for instance, are bite-sized balls of mozzarella which are perfect for antipasti plates and salads. Firm blocks of mozzarella and shredded mozzarella are considered low-moisture, or aged, mozzarella. These are the kinds most often used for pizzas as they melt better than the fresh stuff and don’t release any liquid during the melting process.

Mozzarella cheese is manufactured through the ‘filata’ or stretched-curd procedure, in which the cheese is rested and kneaded until it turns into a soft and fibrous mass that is then formed into balls or braids. Fresh mozzarella is usually sold in a brine which helps preserve its freshness and prevent them from drying out.

Beloved mozzarella shows up in everything from Italian salads to molten cores of arancini, and of course, as the pièce de résistance topping on practically all pizzas.


Soft Italian Cheeses – Ricotta


Soft-Italian-Cheeses-Ricotta

Soft Italian Cheeses – Ricotta

Ricotta is arguably the most popular soft cheese in Italy. The curd-style cheese is crumbly in texture with a rich, creamy flavor.

When the milk protein that is left over from cheese-making (known as whey) is heated and the liquid strained from the curds, you get ricotta—meaning ‘re-cooked.’ In Italy it can be made from cow’s, goat’s, sheep’s, or buffalo milk, but ricotta made from cow’s milk is the most easily and commonly found around the globe.

As well as the types of ricotta made with different types of milk, in regions of Italy you can also find baked ricotta (ricotta infornata), which has a dark crust and is served as an antipasto, smoked ricotta which takes on woody notes, and firm salted ricotta (ricotta salata) which is excellent grated onto pasta dishes, such as Sicilian pasta alla norma—recipe below!

Its creamy flavor makes it perfect for sweet and savory dishes alike—you’ll find it used in gelato, as the traditional filling for sweet cannoli, as the savory filling in cannelloni, ravioli, gnudi, or malfatti (a gnocchi-like pasta), or simply dolloped onto bowls of pasta. It’s also great on crostini—try a peperonata with ricotta crostini or these whipped ricotta and balsamic cherry toasts.


Best Soft Italian Cheeses – Stracciatella


Cheeses-Stracciatella

Best Soft Italian Cheeses – Stracciatella

Stracciatella (‘stra-chia-tella’)is a creamy fresh cheese that is somewhere between curd and liquid in texture. You might know it better as the soft creamy center of burrata. It’s also perhaps the most mispronounced of the Italian cheeses and it shares the same name as the completely unrelated chocolate-y gelato flavor. Other famous spreadable Italian cheeses worth noting are Stracchino and Robiola.

Stemming from the word for ‘shredded’, stracciatella is made by shredding fresh mozzarella into strings and mixing it with cream. In Puglia in the south of Italy, the cheese is traditionally made with buffalo milk.

Stracciatella is excellent served as a spreadable cheese (just spoon it into a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, followed by a shake of salt and pepper) or dolloped onto pizza fresh out of the oven.


More on Italian Cheeses >>

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