Typical Tuscan Cheeses

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Cheese is among the great typical products of Italy and Tuscany. Just like cold cuts, each region has its own particular cheese production, and each area within the region produces even more specific types of cheeses. Therefore the result is an extremely large number of cheese kinds, and each one is a must-try.
The main ingredient of cheese is of course milk, and different kinds of milk yield a very different kind of cheese. There are five large families of Tuscan cheese: goat cheese from goat milk, pecorino from sheep milk, raviggiolo from cow or sheep milk, ricotta from sheep, cow or goat milk, and caciotta from cow milk. You have to imagine that of each kind of cheese there are many versions. The variations on the theme start from the very first moment of processing the milk and continue until the very last day of curing. Some cheeses are cured under ashes at a certain temperature for a certain period of time, others are cured for a very short time and no external ingredients are applied. The first cheese will therefore be very firm, with a strong taste, full bodied and baring hints of the ashes it was buried in for months, while the second will be a very soft and plain cheese with a higher acidity. Each one may be made with sheep cheese, but how different the result!

Caprino Cheese: Goat cheese is produced with goat milk only. It is of two kinds, soft and aged. The first is whiter, sweeter and can be scented with herbs and other spices, while the second is firmer, pale yellow, and more acid. The latter is better eaten cooked while the first should be eaten fresh. The Alto mugello, Apuane, Maremma, and Capraia are the prominent goat cheeses kinds.

Pecorino Cheese: Only sheep cheese makes pecorino, which can be aged from a minimum of 60 days to several months. The more it is aged the more its color tends to yellow and its taste becomes more complex. Young pecorino is very pale in color and taste, delicate and tender. Marzolino is a very limited pecorino production made with milk form selected pastures grazed only during the month of March. The result is extremely delicate. There are so many kinds of pecorino that it is hard to make a selection. Baccellone, Casentino, Pienza, Fossa are just some of the families of Tuscan pecorino and a good starting point to discover this fantastic culinary galaxy.

Raviggiolo Cheese: It can be made with cow milk or sheep milk. It is an extremely soft, tender and fresh product, with a very short shelf life. It should be consumed one or two days after production. The taste is very plain and can be either lightly acid or lightly sweet, depending on the production milk. It must be preserved in its water of production and is usually paired with fruit, fruit jams, or other very mild flavors that do not cover its delicate taste.

Ricotta: Technically not a cheese, it can be made with cow, goat or sheep cheese. It is a very soft and white product. It should be consumed within a week of production, and is best tasted right after production, especially when it is still warm. The taste is quite sweet and buttery, although it is the lightest “cheese” of all. Special ricottas are produced near Massa Carrara, Grosseto and Pistoia.

Caciotta Cheese: It can be of several kinds, made with pure cow, sheep or goat milk or a mix of two of them to obtain quite different results. It is a soft crust cheese, and its color can become yellower aging. The taste varies from lightly sweet to lightly acid. Some caciottas are produced to be eaten quite fresh, while other kinds can be aged.

Other very good traditional Tuscan cheeses to try are the Toscanello, Stracchino, and Pratolina.