All the provolones we tried in our blind taste test are American-made deli provolones with a mild milkiness and soft texture. But how do they compare to traditional Italian provolone? To find out, we purchased two imported Italian provolones from a local specialty cheese shop—a provolone piccante aged for more than a year and a provolone dolce aged for at least four months—and tasted them against our winning American provolone, which was aged for just two months. The three cheeses were shockingly diverse in flavor, texture, and even color—so much so that some tasters thought they were entirely different types of cheese.
The provolone piccante was hard, crumbly, and dark yellow, with a tart sharpness and minerality that reminded tasters of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Its texture and bitterness might be out of place in a sandwich, but most tasters thought it was well suited for a cheese board. The Italian dolce was faintly yellow and soft, mellower than the piccante but still “funky” and “sharp.” Finally, the American provolone was the softest, lightest, and mildest of the bunch. Tasters thought it was “milky” and “mellow,” better for cooking and sandwiches than for a cheese board.
These differences are likely due to a combination of factors, especially the length of aging and the enzymes used to separate the curds from the whey at the start of the cheese-making process. Provolone dolce is typically made with mild calf lipase, while provolone piccante relies on strong, funky goat lipase. American producers, however, often use nonanimal enzymes, which vary in flavor depending on the source.
Stromboli made with different provolones await a blind taste test as part of our evaluation of several varieties of this aged Italian cheese.