Thank you cheeses!

I’ve made this joke for years, mimicking an evangelical in rapture. Now, I’m dead serious in my praise of formaggi italiani (Italian cheeses) and for multiple reasons. Let me explain…

The quality to price ratio of formaggi italiani is hard to beat. 

And it just might lead to an Italian cheese addiction. I’m hooked (and thankful I’m not lactose-intolerant). 

Simply put, yummy artisanal cheeses cost a fraction of the price here in Italy.

In the states. I remember having to seek out specialty shops and pay a small fortune for a handful of artisanal Italian cheeses. Once, while picnic shopping in Napa many years ago, I remember being aghast at paying over $30 for just barely a pound of three kinds of cheese in total. I told myself this would remain an indulgence. Thankfully, Costco eventually got into the game bringing artisanal cheeses, including formaggi italiani, into a less rarified price stratosphere.

Fast forward to my market outing yesterday…

In the featured photo, you’ll see my haul of five different artisanal cheeses, plus a spicy salami from Calabria. We’re easily talking 1 1/2 kilo (3+ lbs) of Italian cheese and salami. The price? 25€ (around $30). The same quantity would easily be twice (and more) back in the States. And, I’d venture to claim that the quality wouldn’t be as high.

As for the cost of living here—Italian food, cheese, and wine are compelling (and easy) line-item expenses.

I keep pinching myself in this regard. I scooped up these formaggi italiani at a cheese and cured meat truck at the Saturday market in the city center of Imperia. There were several such trucks and this scene plays out in twice-weekly markets ALL over Italy. 

These are now my local go-to folks. 

The nice couple managing this truck and business have begun to recognize me. They’re always warm and friendly, and eager to give me more-than-tiny slivers of taste samples. Making a final choice can be daunting. The selection is that good!

Piave Vecchio

I’ve been buying this one for a while now. I add a drizzle of Mosto Cotto or balasamic.

“A hard, cooked curd cheese, compact with a friable, soluble structure; its flavour is strong, decidedly fruity and never sharp, making it an absolutely unique and unmistakeable cheese. With longer aging, i.e. more than 6 months, Piave cheese acquires aromas and flavours that set it aside from all other cheeses.” (read more here).

Pecorino Peperocino Siciliano

This has become yet another frequent member of my formaggi italiani acquisitions. I love any and all forms of pecorino. I love the kick of adding peperoncino and the folks in Sicily are masters of spicing things up.

Bastardo di Grappa 

Yep, a bastard cheese, I guess—meaning that its origins are a bit “mongrel.” I’ll take this mutt-of-a cheese any day. If you’re up for a little history, read more on Wikipedia.

Then I spied a Gorgonzola, creamy and surprisingly mild.

My iceberg lettuce in my garden is coming along nicely so I’ve been looking for worthy gorgonzola to add to bacon and make a creamy wedge salad. This one is a winner.

The fifth cheese? God knows.

I tasted it so I know it’s good, but I may need Sherlock Holmes to unlock the mystery, especially if I find myself hankering for more. This illustrates the danger of going into cheese ecstasy while shopping the local street market.

Lastly, aside from my formaggi italiani, a scrumptious spicy salami. 

My choice was between a previously chosen and devoted spicy Sicilian salami. The one from Calabria sat to its side. I asked “Quale mi consiglia?” (Which do you (polite) advise?). A woman shopping next to me immediately weighed in, telling me to go for the offering from Sicily. But the wife of the couple operating this gourmet truck pointed to the Calabrian choice without hesitation. I followed her advice and my taste buds are pretty damn happy (and singing a bit from the heat which easily rivals the Sicilian option!).

Time to wrap this up with a happy dance. 

The reasons for building a life in Italy are plentiful. Yes, there are daunting reasons (heavy bureaucracy) to be wary, but your easy access to lip-smacking formaggi italiani at down-to-earth prices will have you thanking yourself for making Italy your new home.