Crescenza, a soft, creamy cow's milk cheese with a very thin rind encouraged by a short bath in brine, has a tart, fruity flavor and a pleasant smell. It's meant to be eaten when it's young and very fresh.
Officially called stracchino di crescenza, it isn't always easy to find in the United States, but check specialty cheese shops for imported products and well-stocked grocery stores for crescenza from domestic cheesemakers. Taleggio, a more readily available type of semi-soft Italian cheese with a washed rind, has a similar flavor and texture, but a stronger aroma.
Stracchino di crescenza (strah-KEE-noh dee kreh-SHEN-zha) originated in Italy, in the region of Lombardy, or specifically in the Po Valley. "Stracca" means tired, a reference to the cows that were herded up and down the Alps with the changing seasons and then milked to make stracchino di crescenza. Cheesemakers believed those tired, well-exercised cows gave them extra rich milk with a high butterfat content and greater acidity, perfect for making crescenza.
The cheese was traditionally made with raw milk but most producers now (especially in the United States) use pasteurized milk. In addition to Italian producers, there are a handful of cheesemakers in the United States who make crescenza, including Bellwether Farms, BelGioioso, and Mozzarella Company.
In a cheese display case, you might see crescenza in square slabs that vary in size. Generally 1 to 2 inches thick, crescenza has a thin cream-colored rind that hardly qualifies as a rind at all; it barely contains the oozing cheese. The paste of crescenza typically feels creamy but can veer slightly to rubbery, especially as it starts to age a bit. In stores, crescenza often comes in vacuum-packed tins, as it's the only way to contain the soft cheese for shipping and distribution.
Crescenza can be spread on bread and served with salami or fresh fruit. The mild, slightly sour flavor also tastes good with honey, fruit spreads, and chutneys. Scoop crescenza onto warm polenta for a melty sweetness, use it on pizza in addition to or in place of fresh mozzarella, or toss it with pasta and a splash of the cooking water to make a creamy sauce. Stracchino di crescenza pairs well with fruity white wine; try an effervescent moscato or crisp sauvignon blanc to balance the richness of the cheese.
Recipes With Crescenza
Serve crescenza as the fresh, soft selection on a cheese board, or use it to add rich dairy flavor to a variety of dishes. Cut it into small chunks as a garnish on a salad of fresh arugula or a mound of roasted vegetables, or let it melt into pasta and casseroles to create a rich, creamy sauce.