Provolone is an Italian cheese made from cow’s milk. Its origins lie in Southern Italy and the cheese is produced mostly in the Po valley region, particularly Lombardy and Veneto. The name derives from the Neapolitan words "prova" or "provola," which mean globe shaped. Provolone cheese is classified into two forms: Provolone Dolce (soft), which is young – aged for two to three months, is semi-soft, smooth and has a pale yellow to white color and sweet taste. The other, Provolone Piccante (piquant or pleasantly appetizing) is aged for more than four months and has a sharper taste.
In South America, a similar cheese by the name of Provoleta is eaten with grilled meat. In America, Provolone produced is similar to the Dolce variety. The flavors of Provolone largely vary depending on where it’s made. Mostly, it’s semi-hard in texture and made from cow’s milk.
How Provolone Picante is Made
Provolone is "pasta filata" – an Italian term meaning “spun paste” – stretched-curd or pulled-curd cheese, which includes mozzarella. Pasta filata cheese-making starts with the milk warmed and curdled and allowed to rest for an hour. Then the curds are cut into small pieces and the whey drained off. The curds then rest for several hours. Then follows the filatura, where the curds are steeped for some hours in a bath of very hot whey or water.
When they begin to float, most of the liquid is removed and the curd is then mixed and kneaded until the desired soft, elastic, stringy texture is obtained. The mass of curd is divided and shaped into individual cheeses, which are then aged.
The Taste of Provolone Picante
In Italy, provolone is considered to be among the most vital of cheese staples. Most wheels of provolone are gourd-shaped and tied at the top with rope. Provolone's natural rind is covered with wax, which makes it inedible.
Italian Provolone is primarily a grating cheese, full-bodied and buttery with a slight snap. Aged Italian Provolones are much more flavorful than standard issue sandwich provolone. If you've only tried the soft, supermarket "deli" version of Provolone, Provolone Picante cheese should be a revelation.
Provolone contains large amounts of calcium and protein but is also high in sodium. The cheese goes along well with full-bodied and aged red wines. At the table, it could be served with hot chutneys, homemade bread and flatbread.
Serve it with Italian olives and thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma—Provolone as they eat it in Italy! Grate it over pizzas and pasta or anything that calls for a cheese topping (which is just about everything). It melts best when shredded first. For a scrumptious treat, try it with some red grapes, pears, figs, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives or hearty bread drizzled with olive oil. A favorite of ours is provolone melted over fresh bruschetta. Delicious!
High-quality Provolone Picante is good enough to snack on, but if it's of a lesser quality the flavor is often uninteresting. This type is best used for cooking. Try it on pizza or in a salami sandwich.