Fontina cheese is a cow's milk cheese that originated in Italy and is traditionally made from unpasteurized milk from cows in the Aosta Valley, an Alpine region in northwest Italy. Fontina cheese is also made in Denmark, Sweden, the United States, Canada and Argentina.
Made from: Raw cow's milk
Origin: Aosta Valley region of Italy
Texture: Semi-soft young; firmer when aged
Aging: 90 to 150 days
Color: Light yellow
Rind: Thin, pale orange
What Is Fontina Cheese?
Fontina cheese is made from whole cow's milk and has a fat content of around 45 percent. It has a creamy light yellow color with numerous small holes, known as "eyes." Its flavor is mild and nutty, although its intensity will depend on how long it's been aged. Younger Fontina is used as a table cheese while older Fontina is used for grating. In the U.S., where raw milk cheeses must be aged at least 60 days, some Fontina is made with pasteurized milk, which produces a milder tasting Fontina, and many of the cheese's more subtle flavors are lost.
Traditional Fontina has a thin, pale orange rind, while so-called Swedish-style Fontinas are packaged in a coating of red wax.
Fontina made in the E.U. is protected with DOP status, meaning that authentic Fontina can only be produced in specific regions in specific ways. These authentic Fontinas are identified by a consortium label featuring an image of the Matterhorn, along with the word "Fontina."
How Fontina is Made
Fontina cheese is made by heating cow's milk to 97 F in stainless steel or copper vats, and then adding live cultures and calf's rennet to form curds. After resting, the mixture is cooked to a higher temperature (about 116 to 118 F). The resulting curds are strained, then transferred into round molds where they are drained and salted. This process is followed by 60 days of aging in a cool environment, and then another 30 to 90 days in aging caves, where it is washed with brine regularly to form the rind.
Types of Fontina
Authentic Fontina is labeled "Fontina Val d'Aosta DOP" and the wheels are marked with a greenish-blue consortium stamp. There are several variations, sometimes referred to as "Fontinella," "Fontella" or "Fontel." Italian-style Fontina closely resembles the original as it is also made from raw milk, though it has a lower moisture level. Swedish or Danish-style Fontina, which is made with pasteurized milk and is packaged in red wax, features a mild, milky flavor, is known for slicing well and melting perfectly. American-style Fontina is even milder, and is also made from pasteurized milk. It's aged for a shorter time than the Swedish style, and has a higher moisture content so it melts smoothly.
You can substitute any washed-rind Alpine cheese for Fontina, like Challerhocker or Taleggio, or an unwashed Alpine cheese, like Gruyere or raclette. Gouda, and Provolone would also be good substitutes.
The wonderful thing about younger Fontina is that it melts so well, so it can be used in any recipe where you want a smooth, melty cheese, like fondue, cheese dip or cheese sauces. Casseroles (notably mac and cheese), pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, frittatas and baked stratas will all benefit from Fontina's gooey meltiness. A dish called Fonduta alla valdostana, made of Fontina whipped with milk, eggs and truffles, is one of the traditional uses of Fontina cheese.
Mature Fontina is harder, and can be grated over soups, pasta dishes, rice and risotto, vegetables and salads.
The best way to store Fontina cheese is to wrap it tightly in parchment, waxed paper, butcher paper or cheese paper, and then place the wrapped cheese in a plastic container with holes poked in it. Then, store that container in the cheese drawer of your refrigerator, all of which will protect it from the dehydrating effects of the refrigerator. Stored this way, young Fontina will keep for 2 weeks, and up to 6 weeks if it's aged.
If you're serving it as a table cheese, let it come to room temperature for an hour before eating it (although this doesn't matter if you're cooking with it).
It is possible to store Fontina at room temperature, provided the temperature does not get above 70 F. In this case, you'd want to keep it on a cheese rack covered with a glass dome. Stored in this way, it will keep for 2 to 3 days.
If mold appears on the cheese, trim at least an inch below the mold, and be careful not to touch the mold with the knife,. Then, rewrap in new paper.
Aged Fontina can be grated and frozen in an airtight container for up to a year. Once defrosted, use within a few days. The flavor will be slightly duller and the texture drier than fresh cheese.
Because it melts so smoothly, Fontina is the cheese of choice in many baked dishes, casseroles and gratins.
Can You Eat the Rind?
As with all natural rind cheeses, it is perfectly safe to eat the rind of Fontina cheese. With aged Fontina, the rind may be hard, but feel free to add it to soups or grate it over veggies or pasta before serving.