Easily the most popular and widely used cheese in southern Italy, Caciocavallo has been produced throughout the area once known as the "Kingdom of Naples" since medieval times. One of the pear-shaped cheeses, Caciocavallo is tied at the neck with a cord and hung up to dry and ripen. Its name, which literally means " horse-cheese ," is said to derive from the way the cheese was originally slung in pairs over the back of a horse during transportation. The cheese's composition, meanwhile, actually consists of whole or partly-skimmed cow (not horse ) milk, with the possible (though more unlikely) addition of milk from sheep or goats.
Creamy yellow on the inside, Caciocavallo has an external crust that ranges in color from eggshell yellow to pale brown depending on the length of the aging process. Its flavor can be dolce ("sweet") when the cheese is young, piccante ("piquant") when aged for around two months, or affumicato ("smoked," to acquire an aromatic and slightly bitter taste). When the cheese is made from whole milk, ripening can last up to 3 or 4 months.
In the Kitchen
Young Caciocavallo makes an outstanding table cheese, while aged versions are used both for the table and for grating. Also an ideal cooking cheese, Caciocavallo melts swiftly and evenly into pastas or pies, and will create a smooth, savory blanket over baked or grilled vegetables. For a speedy appetizer with long-lasting appeal, drizzle a few sizeable slices with olive oil, and sprinkle with a dusting of black pepper. Or, for a forkful of velvety goodness, try grilling up some Caciocavallo all on its own.
Caciocavallo should be kept in the lower part of the refrigerator or in a cool pantry. It should be wrapped in paper, or sealed inside polyethylene bags. (Make sure to punch a few well-placed holes into the bags to allow the cheese to breathe.)