Provolone is a popular Italian cheese that is versatile in its use and varied in its flavor and texture.
First produced in southern Italy, provolone and similar styles are continued to be made today in Italy, and also in the United States and South America.
You probably didn’t know…
Provolone is a cow’s milk cheese that was first produced in southern Italy, near Mount Vesuvius near the end of the 19th century.
Provolone cheese is made with pasteurized cow’s milk, meaning the milk is heated enough to kill organisms and enzymes. This extends the shelf life of the product and gets rid of potentially harmful bacteria.
Today, most provolone from Italy is made in Lombardy and Veneto, and American-made provolone is made in Michigan and Wisconsin.
How many types/styles are there?
There are three main styles of provolone – Piccante, Dolce, and American.
Piccante is the most traditional type of provolone, with a sharp, tangy flavor and a dry, crumbly texture. This style of provolone is aged at least four months, up to three years. It has a more gamey and pungent flavor and is more suited to be eaten on a cheeseboard. This style is available to purchase at specialty cheese shops and Italian delis, you can also get it via Amazon like this one here.
Provolone Dolce is a much milder cheese. It is softer, creamier and only aged a few months. It has a buttery flavor with a touch of sharpness. Provolone Dolce is formed into a log shape and can be sliced at the deli counter. This style of provolone is available at specialty cheese shops, Italian deli’s, and at higher-end grocery stores.
The third style of provolone is familiar to many Americans that purchase pre-sliced provolone in a package. This style is made in large quantities, very mild in flavor, and is well-suited for sandwiches. American provolone is widely available at supermarkets and used in dishes in fast food chains and restaurants.
At some specialty cheese shops, you may be able to find smoked provolone. High-quality, artisan smoked provolone is smoked using natural wood on smoking racks. Other smoked provolone may use liquid and artificial smoke that is added to the milk before it is curdled, stretched, shaped, brined, and aged.
Why provolone cheese?
In cooking, cheese can add flavor, texture, and creaminess to a dish. Using provolone cheese can bring a sharp and acidic bite to a dish, or a buttery and nutty note when melted.
Provolone is a cheese that is widely available, so it makes a great choice to use on sandwiches and Italian classic dishes.
How to use it, the right way
There are many ways to use different types of provolone cheese.
Provolone Piccante, the most traditional style, is very dry and crumbly. This style of cheese doesn’t melt well but can still be used in cooking and recipes. Using a microplane or a fine grater, this style of provolone can be grated very finely into a powder consistency. Top baked pasta with this grated cheese.
It can also be shaved over a salad or pasta using a vegetable peeler.
To enjoy on a cheese board, chunk off rigged and uneven pieces using a sharp knife. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper and serve alongside salami and pickled peppers.
Provolone Dolce is a bit more veritable to cook with. Because of its softer texture, this style is perfect for melting. Shred this cheese on a box grater and melt into a cheese sauce.
Get slices of Provolone Dolce from a deli counter and use on a sandwich with cold cuts or melt on a panini-style sandwich.
To enjoy Provolone Dolce on a cheese board, cube into uniform chunks and serve with toothpicks, olives, and crackers.
American provolone can be used in similar places as Provolone Dolce, but will lack some of the robust flavors – slice on sandwiches, shred to melt into dishes, or cube to eat as a snack.
Will it melt?
Most provolone cheese is a great melting cheese. Any provolone that comes pre-sliced or is sliced at a deli counter will melt beautifully. It can be either sliced or shredded to melt well. Provolone Piccante is the only style of provolone that will not melt well.
Where is provolone cheese used?
Provolone cheese can be used in a variety of dishes and cuisines:
One of the most famous uses of sliced provolone is on a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich. This sandwich uses thinly sliced ribeye steak, grilled onions and green peppers, and melted provolone cheese on a hoagie bun.
It originated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the early 20th century but can be found in restaurants and fast-food chains all over the world today.
Another American regional specialty, the Muffaletta sandwich comes from New Orleans. Large, circular bread leaves are filled with ham, salami, mortadella, provolone cheese, and a salty and bright olive salad. The sandwich gets assembled and left to rest until the olive juices permeate the entire sandwich. Even though it is served cold, the provolone cheese brings a creamy and buttery bite to this salty sandwich.
Italian baked pasta can use provolone as a melty component in the dish. Sliced provolone can be layered into lasagna, shredded into baked ziti, or grated atop stuffed shells.
Another Italian-American favorite, provolone is often used on a meatball sub. Cooked meatballs are arranged on a soft roll, topped with red sauce, and slices of provolone are melted over the top.
To take advantage of its great melting qualities, provolone cheese is often used on paninis (pressed grilled sandwiches) or grilled cheese sandwiches.
What wines pair well with provolone cheese
There are many things to drink to help bring out the flavor of provolone cheese.
Strong, aged Provolone Piccante is a bold and salty cheese. Because of its big flavors, it can be paired with big and bold Italian red wines.
Softer and milder Provolone Dolce sliced on a sandwich pairs great with pale ales and Pilsner beers.
The three different styles of provolone vary in texture and flavor, and can be grated, shaved, sliced, shredded, cubed, and melted into different types of recipes and dishes.
With the multiple styles of provolone and its multiple culinary uses, provolone cheese is a great cheese to try.
One last thing…
Making provolone cheese at home is very possible, see how beginners learn to make super tasty provolone cheese in just a few steps! If that’s not your thing, here is my recommended provolone this one where you can get now on Amazon.