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Although it doesn't brag as much as France, Italy with its superb array of cheese or formaggi can be as torturous for the lactose intolerant as its pasta culture can be for coeliacs. Just because the idea of a cheese course isn't as engrained as it is in France doesn't mean the country doesn't produce exquisite table cheeses; it's just that you're more like to find them at an enoteca (wine bar) than in a trattoria.

No one knows exactly how many varieties of cheese Italy produces, but it's over 400. Several are DOP; 115 are listed in the Ark of Taste.

One feature of Italian cheesemaking is the method called pasta filata, in which the cheese is soaked in hot whey and then kneaded to give it a fibery texture. This is how such famous cheeses as mozzarella, fiordilatte, provolone, caciocavallo and scamorza are made. Another Italian speciality is hard, granular (grana) cheese, including the grana padano and parmigiano reggiano sold all over the world.

Most cheeses have their own names, but there are two listed under formaggio:

Formaggio agordino di malga: a mostly cow's milk cheese, made in the lofty pastures under the Dolomites in the Agordino valley near Belluno.

Formaggio d'alpeggio di Triora: Unpasteurized cheese made from the milk of Piedmontese cows in the pastures of Monte Saccarello in Liguria. Its rind turns yellowish brown as it ages.

Every odd numbered year in September, the Piedmontese town of Bra (the cradle of the Slow Food movement) holds Cheese, the world's biggest festival and exhibition dedicated to the glory of formaggio.

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Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Gennaro Visciano, Creative Commons License