The good news is that Italy has a wide world of cheeses for exploring and enjoying. Here are six lesser-known favorites sure to impress your guests, no matter their level of formaggio expertise.
Oozy, fluffy, and creamy, La Tur is a decadent combination of textures and flavors. Hailing from Piedmont, La Tur is made with cow, sheep, and goat’s milk and comes in a whimsical little cupcake wrapper. Not many cheeses manage to be delicate, barnyardy, and buttery all at once, but La Tur somehow does. Weighing in at 8 ounces for a whole wheel, it’s the perfect size for one person or maybe two, and is totally dreamy, whether you choose to share it or keep it for yourself (we won’t tell!).
Available from DiBruno Bros.
Bettelmatt has been known and loved since as early as the 13th century, when it was used to pay rent or taxes. Now, it’s made by only eight producers in the Italian Ossola mountains, and only from May to September, when the cows can graze on the lush mountain pastures. It’s said that cheese made in these mountains has an impossible-to-replicate flavor due to a wild mountain herb called mottolina that is unique to the region. Tricky to find, but not at all tricky to enjoy, Bettelmatt has flavor notes of alpine meadows, cashew butter, and egg custard. With only about 3,000 wheels made a year, savor it if you can get it!
Available by pre-order only from Forever Cheese.
Despite its German-sounding name, Weinkase Lagrein hails from South Tyrol, Italy, near the Austrian border. This semi-soft cheese is soaked in Lagrein wine with herbs, garlic, and pepper for five days, resulting in a cheese that delightfully tastes a whole lot like salami. (This is an especially fun one to share with your vegetarian friends, though omnivores will appreciate it as well.) Make sure to eat the rind, which has the strongest concentration of salami-like flavor.
Available from iGourmet.
Hailing from the island of Sardinia, where there are supposedly more sheep than people, Capra Sarda is a semi-hard pecorino-style cheese, but made with goat’s milk. It’s salty, snackable, and mineral-driven, with notes of caramel. It’s equally delightful on a cheese board as it is grated over pasta or salad.
Available from Murray’s Cheese.
Castelrosso is a weirdo, but a loveable one. Imagine that you made a big wheel of cow’s milk feta and grew a rind on it, which slowly ripened the feta, creating different flavors and textures throughout the wheel. That’s basically Castelrosso, hailing from Piedmont. Its middle crumbles like your favorite feta, but with more mushroomy, grassy flavors. The ripest part of the cheese, a quarter-inch layer between the rind and middle called the creamline, has a pudgier texture and earthier flavors.
Available from Murray’s Cheese.
Parmigiano Reggiano Solo di Bruna
Okay, okay, we know you know Parm, but hear us out — this is Parm unlike any you’ve tasted before. It’s still the much-loved Parmigiano Reggiano, but made with only the milk of Swiss Brown cows (hence the “Solo di Bruna”), which is how Parm was made in the Middle Ages. This breed of cow has a higher casein (milk protein) content in its milk, which leads to a creamier, toastier cheese and flavors reminiscent of toffee and hazelnuts. Where there are several hundred producers of our dear Parmigiano Reggiano, there are only four Solo di Bruna producers. A wonderfully snackable, elegant treasure.
Available from Ditalia.