While the debate rages on over whether a hot dog is considered a sandwich, sandwich lovers can agree that the addition of cheese always makes a sandwich better. When you visit your local sub shop, there are so many options of cheese to choose from, it can be overwhelming. While not a Wisconsin famous cheese, provolone cheese is sold in most local delis and markets, making it the perfect sandwich topper.
Provolone cheese is often referred to as table cheese because of its mild flavor that pairs well with sandwiches, bread and jam, and most importantly, red wine. Mild provolone also goes great with a tray of Italian meats such as prosciutto and salami. Sometimes provolone is even grilled into a fondue state called provoleta. Still, you'll mostly find this cheese around sandwiches, as it's very common in most local delis and markets. Provolone is an easy choice for any sandwich, and you can always say you're getting your calcium in.
What is Provolone Cheese?
Provolone cheese is a semi-hard cheese from Southern Italy. The Po Valley region of Italy, specifically Lombardy and Veneto, are where most provolone is produced. According to iGourmet, "The name Provolone is derived from the Neapolitan words "prova" and "provola" which mean "globe shaped." While it is common to shape provolone into cone or tube shapes, some cheese makers have fun with shaping the cheese into animals.
To ensure the cheese is authentically Italian, Provolone del Monaco and Provolone Valpadana are granted with the official DOP designation. DOP stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta, which translates to Protected Designation of Origin. This seal guarantees that any product with this label is local to Italy. The European Union oversees the quality and production in order for products to earn this coveted designation.
Provolone is a cow's milk cheese with two main types. The two types are Provolone Dolce and Provolone Piccante. Both cheeses are considered pasta filata cheese, which translates to spun paste. Mozzarella, a close cousin to provolone, is also in this same family of Italian cheese. These cheeses are made from a stretched curd, where the cheese curd is pulled and stretched.
How Provolone Cheese is Made
Both Dolce and Piccante begin the same way, which is with warm milk that has been left to curdle. The enzyme that curdles the milk is known as rennet. Once curds form, they are cut into small pieces and the whey is drained off. This is repeated a few times which allows the mixture to rest.
If you've ever seen mozzarella cheese being freshly made, you are probably familiar with the spinning process called filatura. This is where the curds take a bath in hot water and are stretched, pulled, and kneaded until the desired texture is formed. Once brined, the cheese is wrapped in a wax rind, then placed in a cellar to age. The aging process depends on the type of provolone.
Types of Provolone Cheese
Provolone Dolce is the most common type in America. It is slightly sweet and creamy, and is great for melting. This style of cheese is made from cow rennet and is only aged for 2-3 months.
Provolone Piccante has a much stronger taste, which some describe as "beefier." It is saltier and better suited for dishes like antipasto. Piccante has a stronger flavor because it is aged 6-12 months and is made from lamb or goat's rennet, instead of cow.
If your local deli doesn't sell provolone, fontina is the next best substitute. Fontina has a similar nutty and buttery taste, and also melts beautifully. What's your favorite sandwich cheese?