From Neapolitan pizza and Bolognese lasagne to spaghetti alla carbonara and pasta al pomodoro, Italian cuisine has some of the most deliciously simple meals you can eat. And for any home cook, making Italian meals at home can be an art, craft, and mediation.
As in any cuisine, knowing how to pair cheese with Italian food can elevate your home-cooked Italian meals to a new height.
So here’s our round-up of the best cheese pairings for pizza, pasta, and lasagne.
What’s the Best Cheese for Pizza?
Mozzarella is the most authentic and most popular cheese topping for pizza. The quintessential Margherita pizza is made with pureed San Marzano tomatoes, cow’s milk mozzarella (fior di latte) or water buffalo milk mozzarella (mozzarella di bufala), and fresh basil leaves.
Cooking pizza in a home oven takes longer than in a wood-fired pizza oven because your home oven can’t reach the same temperature as a professional one (about 750°F or 400°C). Rather than taking 60 to 90 seconds, your home oven takes around 20 minutes to cook a pizza.
Because of that, the mozzarella can dry up and develop a brownish color. This makes it hard to digest and heavy in taste. So here’s a pro tip from Italian pizzaiolos… When making pizza at home, add the cheese toppings two to three minutes before you take it out of the oven. That way, the mozzarella will melt, but still be fresh.
Other popular pizza toppings include provolone, gorgonzola, and, for American pizza, American cheese, cheddar cheese, or mature cheddar cheese.
Choosing a Cheese for Your Pasta
One of the oldest and most authentic Roman pasta dishes are ‘spaghetti cacio e pepe’ and ‘spaghetti alla carbonara.’ You’ll notice that both of these are white pasta dishes as tomatoes weren’t introduced from Mexico to Europe until the 16th century. The best cheese for Roman pasta is Pecorino Romano. It’s hard and salty Italian cheese that’s made from sheep’s milk.
More modern Italian recipes like ‘pasta al pomodoro’ are cooked without cheese, but often served with thinly grated Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano, or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The signature pasta dish in Sicily, ‘pasta alla norma,’ is made with a regional staple grated Ricotta salata cheese.
Italian-American recipes contain mozzarella, ricotta, and Provolone often as a stuffing for the pasta noodles or part of an oven-baked pasta dish.
What Cheese Can I Add to Ravioli?
Ravioli is a delicious type of pasta that consists of a filling wrapped in thin dough. Usually served in broth or with sauce, ravioli are a traditional dish on the table of Italian families.
What is the best cheese to add to ravioli? Connoisseurs recommend that you mix ricotta cheese, provolone cheese, mozzarella, and/or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese into a filling for a creamy filling with a rich taste.
The best thing about making ravioli is that there’s no right way to do it. It depends completely on your tastes and preferences. So feel free to experiment with Italian, European, and American cheeses until you discover the perfect recipe for your family cookbook.
Which Cheese to Use for Lasagna?
Most lasagne recipes are made with mozzarella. You can use cow’s milk mozzarella (fior di latte) or water buffalo milk mozzarella (mozzarella di bufala). If you can’t find good cheese in your grocery store, head to the Italian deli in your neighbourhood.
Always choose fresh mozzarella over low-moisture mozzarella. The latter has been dried for a longer shelf life, which takes away from its best traits. Fresh mozzarella, on the other hand, is soft, savory, and, to an extent, soupy. It adds moisture to the lasagne that will get soaked up by the lasagne sheets, enriching the taste and texture of your dish.
When it comes to quantity, Italians tend to add less cheese to their lasagne dish, whereas Italian-Americans like to build theirs with thick sheets of mozzarella in-between.
Italian chefs like to say that a good lasagne should not have too much cheese, as it will otherwise like compactness and consistency when you put it on your plate.
Another common lasagne filling, especially on Neapolitan lasagne, is made with ricotta. The cheese is dissolved to a cream-like texture. using hot cooking water from the lasagne sheets. Then, it’s mixed with chopped basil and freshly-ground black pepper.
Other cheeses you’ll find in a lasagna are Provola and, grated on top, Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.
Check out two authentic Italian recipes for ‘lasagna bolognese’ and ‘lasagna napoletana’ in this YouTube video from Italia Squisita below:
If you’re making pizza or lasagne, consider fresh mozzarella. The best mozzarella cheese is fior di latte (from cow’s milk) and mozzarella di bufala (from water buffalo milk).
The best cheeses to grate on top of pizza, lasagne, or pasta dishes are Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano.
If you want to get creative, consider provola, provolone, and gorgonzola cheese. Also American cheese, cheddar cheese, and mature cheddar cheese.