Provolone is the beautiful cheese you often see strung up with twine and hung from the ceiling of Italian food shops. But what is it? Imagine Mozzarella – with a much fuller flavour.
Like Mozzarella, Provolone comes from the family of pasta filata cheeses. Italian for “spun paste,” pasta filata cheeses are pulled-curd cheeses mixed with heated whey, then kneaded and stretched to a wonderfully pliable consistency.
So what makes Provolone different from other pasta filata cheeses like Mozzarella or Caciocavallo? Ageing ability.
Moulded into fanciful shapes, wrapped up in cords, and hung to ripen, Provolone develops an oily, golden brown rind. As it ages, the cheese becomes richer in yellow colour, firmer in texture, and more pronounced in flavour.
Despite its Southern Italian origins, versions of Provolone are made in several countries throughout the world, including the U.S. and Japan. However, the main production areas for Provolone remain in Italy, particularly, the Northern Italian regions of Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, and the province of Trento.
In these regions, there are 13 certified cheese producers crafting the authentic D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) label Provolone. Known as Provolone Valpadana, this traditional cow’s milk cheese is made in two distinct varieties:
Dolce (mild): This delicately flavoured Provolone is made with calf’s rennet and aged no longer than two to three months. Dolce has a creamy, milky taste and a smooth, semi-soft texture. Forms of dolce Provolone are relatively small, weighing in at a maximum of 12 pounds.
Piccante (sharp): Made with goat’s and/or lamb’s rennet, the ageing process for piccante Provolone ranges from a minimum of three months to more than one year. This cheese is drier, sharper, and stronger than the dolce, so it’s best enjoyed for dessert, cooking, and grating. Forms of Provolone piccante can be as large as 200 pounds.
Both dolce and piccante Provolone come in smoked versions. Theses cheeses have a light, but distinctively smokier aroma and flavour.
Provolone is widely available year-round at many supermarkets and specialist cheese shops. A squat pear shaped Provolone is the most common and recognisable, but forms of Provolone are made in many shapes, including:
- Melon/pear shaped: called “Mandarino,” “Mandarone,” or “Provoletta”
- Sausage shaped: called “Pancetta,” “Pancettone,” or “Salamino”
- Truncated cone shaped: called “Gigante,” “Gigantino,” or “Gigantone”
- Bottle shaped: called “Fiaschetta”
Once home, tightly wrap your Provolone in plastic and refrigerate. The mild, semi-soft variety will keep for about two weeks. Aged provolone can be stored four weeks or even longer.
Both varieties of Provolone are perfect with cocktails and antipasto. Serve the cheese with Italian salamis, peppers, olives, nuts, pears, figs, and wedges of fresh melon for an easy, elegant appetizer.
At the everyday table, Provolone is right at home with a loaf of Italian bread. Drizzle the dolce with a little oil, salt, pepper and freshly torn herbs. Or complement your piccante Provolone with a few curls of fresh butter.
Provolone is also a great melting cheese. Use it when you want a little more “zing” than your usual mozzarella. Melt slices of Provolone onto grilled burgers or shred and bake into stuffed shells, lasagne, and casseroles.
Like Parmesan, aged Provolone is great to have on hand for sprinkling over finished recipes. Freshly grate your Provolone and use it as a topping for pizza, bruschetta, pasta dishes, salads, and soups.
Pairing Provolone With Wine
As a general rule, the stronger the cheese, the stronger the wine. Pair your mild Provolone with similarly young wines. Try fruity varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Beaujolais, Novello, or Barbera.
To fully appreciate the qualities of an aged Provolone, pair it with older, more structured wines such as Amarone, Valpolicella, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, or Barbaresco. Sharper Provolone also tastes great alongside a pint of hearty ale. Salute!