Italy is a land of culinary delights, from pasta and olive oil to meats and cheeses – and wine – don’t forget the wine! Italian wine and cheese pairings are a staple of cheese boards everywhere. However, many of the most popular Italian cheeses come from the central or southern regions of Italy, and the northern cheese specialties are rather less likely to make an appearance. Mozzarella, provolone, ricotta, pecorino, parmesan, and even mascarpone, are all from the sunny southern regions, beginning in Emilia Romagna and moving down.
Don’t make the mistake of forgetting about Northern Italian food, though. The north of Italy touches France (hello all things cheese), Switzerland (home of the Brown Swiss cow, of dairy fame), Austria, and Slovenia, making for an interesting mix of influences and a cuisine that is distinct from the rest of the country. Let’s take a look at some Northern Italian cheese choices and wines that pair well with them.
Credit: @Asiago PDO Cheese
As you may know, Asiago comes in multiple forms, from the soft, firm Asiago pressato, sold young and fresh, to the crumbly Asiago d’allevo which is matured anywhere from 4 months to 2 years. Made only on the Asiago plateau, in the Veneto region of Italy, Asiago is a hard cow’s milk cheese that offers delicious salty nuttiness whether eaten on its own or sprinkled over pasta, omelets or salad. Serve aged Asiago with a full, tannic red wine that will complement the richness of the cheese. A Primitivo, a Barolo, or a lovely Amarone della Valpolicella will offer a great match to this distinctive cheese.
Credit: @Dorignac’s Food Center
The Valle d’Aosta, next to Switzerland, produces this semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, which is often used to make fonduta, a sort of fondue eaten with toast and vegetables. Developed in the 13th century, it has a mild, slightly nutty flavor, with hints of grass. Its creamy smooth texture makes it perfect for melting, but it is just as delicious on a piece of crostini with a drizzle of honey. Try fontina with a local Pinot Bianco or Swiss Chasselas, the acidity will offset the richness of the cheese, or with a vin jaune from Jura. These French whites are nutty and full-bodied, perfect white pairings for fondue.
Credit: @il granaio di gabriello
This most famous Italian blue cheese dates back to the 11th century and is said to have originated in the town of Gorgonzola near Milan. It is made of cow’s milk and comes in two types – the younger Sweet Gorgonzola and the more mature Spicy Gorgonzola. A young Gorgonzola is more mild and creamier than the aged version, in which the “blue” flavor becomes more pronounced and piquant. To bring out the sweet softness of a younger Gorgonzola, try it with an off-dry Prosecco – the fruity bubbles offer a palate cleanser after the heavy cheese. Or pair either version with sweet wines such as marsala or port.
Benedictine monks in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region began making this cheese in the 13th century. Montasio is a firm cow’s milk cheese, very present in Italian cuisine but not as well known outside of the country. Wheels of cheese are left to mature anywhere from 60 days to 18 months, and their originally mild flavor becomes fuller and fruitier with age. This cheese requires light wine to avoid overpowering its softness, and works particularly well with Pinot Bianco, Italian Merlot, or even a lightly sparkling Lambrusco.
Credit: @Ico Krajcovic
Taleggio dates back to the 9th century, originating in the Taleggio Valley of the Lombardy region. It is another semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, but with a more pungent aroma and rind. Taleggio tastes creamy, and slightly fruity – a bit of a surprise given its strong smell – and is much milder than one might expect at first sniff. Pair it with light bodied red wines from the region to enhance its smoothness and bring out the fruity flavor. Schiava, a red grape from Alto Adige, makes a deliciously light and fruity pairing to Taleggio, as does a Barbera or a Valpolicella Classico.
This is but a start to your Italian cheese and wine pairing journey, as Italy has much, much more to offer – however, it will give you a delicious introduction to the occasionally overlooked northern regions and their epicurean delights. Try pairing each cheese with a Northern Italian wine, each cheese here includes at least one suggestion, and see how the cuisine and wine of Italian regions complement each other. In Italy, food is never rushed, so take your time with tasting. Note the sensations of each cheese and wine on your tongue, how the aromas and flavors combine to create an enriched experience. Savor the moment. Buon appetito!