Italian hard cheeses have a rich intense taste. They have less moisture and a longer shelf life than softer varieties. As cheese ages, it becomes firmer and more pungent, so hard cheeses tend to have a very strong taste. Hard cheeses are often crumbly and are commonly used grated on top of pasta dishes.
Parmigiano Reggiano is a granular cheese produced in the central Italian regions of Parma and Reggio Emilia. Its French name, parmesan, is more frequently used by English speakers to refer to this cheese, though the bland parmesan cheeses sold in cans in America has little resemblance to true Italian Parmigiano Reggiano. Parmigiano Reggiano is pungent and salty. It adds a dynamic flavor when grated on top of salads, pastas, and pizzas. The best varieties are aged for 2 years for optimal texture and flavor.
Grana Padano derives its name from the Italian words “grana” (grain) and “Padano” (referring to the Po River), referring to its distinctive grainy texture and the region where it originated. It is slowly cooked and ripened for up to 18 months, giving it a delicate, nutty flavor. Many athletes believe that eating Grana Padano is a quick way to restore energy levels after strenuous exercising; since it has been ripened over a long period, the body can quickly use its energy.
Pecorino cheeses are made from sheep’s milk. Most of the cheeses in this family are aged and sharp. The four main varieties are regulated under the Protected Designation of Origin status. Pecorino Romano is the best known outside of Italy and is often used on pasta dishes where its distinctive, strong, salty flavor complements highly-flavored sauces.
Asiago comes from the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. It develops a strong flavor as it ages and is often used grated or in sauces. It is similar to Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano, but has a sweeter taste.