In this series, get ready to (virtually) travel around Europe and add stamps to your cheese passport by exploring the way cheeses are enjoyed and incorporated into different cuisines.

Italian cheese culture stretches far beyond the melty mozzarella on pizza or the provolone on a sandwich. Just like in France, the cheese tradition of Italy is tied to the geography, history, and culture of the country.

Remember that France produces at least 350 to 400 distinct varieties of cheese, though it’s probably more like 1000? Italy has that number matched, if not beat. Italians are a proud group, and this pride for their cheesemaking traditions is what allows so many different types of cheese to survive when they otherwise might be lost. 

Sheep are essential to these traditions. These animals are better suited than cows to the dry and rocky climates of central and southern Italy. Pecora means sheep, which is why many Italian cheeses are called pecorinos, most of which are produced in the regions of Lombardy, Lazio, Sicily, and Sardinia.

At when it comes to regionality, Italians are fiercely regional in their identity and the cheeses they produce. 

Cheese is the lifeblood of many traditional dishes across Italy. The types of cheese are rather broad—from the asiago and famous Parmigiano-Reggiano in the north, to burrata and mozzarella in the south, Italy is awash with delightful dairy. But the real identity of these cheeses lies not in their names, but in the terroir and in their origin.

The regions of Italy, much like many countries in Europe, have developed certain methods for producing food products. This gives the products a true taste of their locales.

Cheese styles in Italy are dictated by area or region. Tradition dictates how to make each cheese—from the type of milk to the aging process, each one has been created to be the best example from a specific area. No discerning Italian is going to buy Piemonte mozzarella or tome from Lazio. It just doesn’t happen. Not only do these regions not produce these types of cheese, but they’re also not primarily suited to those particular varieties.

Regionality in Italy extends deep into the food culture of the country, and some of these products and methods are slowly being exported and utilized outside Italy—like at Old Europe Cheese in Benton Harbor, MI.

At Old Europe Cheese, we have been handcrafting Italian Fontina in our state-of-the-art factory since 1987. We make our Reny Picot Fontina using a traditional recipe hailing from the Val D’Aosta region of Italy that uses high quality, pasteurized cow’s milk.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy Reny Picot Fontina? Visit our Facebook page and let us know—we’d love to hear from you!