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It’s no secret that we love cheese in every way and form. From blue cheese to yellow cheese, it's something we can never fill up on. One of such well-loved varieties of cheese hailing from Italy — Fontina cheese — comes with a unique flavor profile and a specialized production method.
If this is your first time hearing of fontina, you might’ve heard of one of its many sobriquets: fontinella, frontal, or fontella.
Keep reading ahead to learn everything there’s to know about this incredible cheese, from what it is and where it comes from to what it tastes like and how it differs from other commonly used cheeses.
You Need To Try Fontina Cheese
While fontina cheese is undoubtedly delicious on its own, it also goes great in hot dishes because the cheese melts perfectly, giving you a good long stretch. This means it works great in pizzas and sauce-based dishes like pasta. You can also use it in sandwiches or turn it into a delicious hot dip using olive oil and herbs.
Besides the fact that it tastes absolutely delicious, fontina cheese is also loaded with several health benefits (via Check Your Food). It can help improve your bone and muscle health while boosting overall immunity. This nutty cheese is also packed with vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc, contributing to a healthy mind and body.
What Is Fontina Cheese?
Fontina cheese is a semi-hard cow milk cheese with a signature nutty flavor and small holes known as eyes. However, as it ages, the texture hardens and the flavors increase in intensity.
Its production dates back to the 12th century when fontina was first produced in the Aosta Valley in the Alpine in Italy, where it’s still made today. It is now widely produced by several countries, including the U.S., Sweden, Denmark, Canada, and France.
However, fontina cheese made in Europe can be easily distinguished by the mark of "Matterhorn" stamped on it together with "Fontina."
Fontina cheese also has other varieties, like fontinella or frontal, but the original version is more famous. These "other" varieties are produced by countries like the U.S. and have a characteristically red wax rind that sets them apart from the original.
With a vibrant and smooth texture, fontina makes a wonderful addition to a cheese platter or a charcuterie board.
How Is Fontina Cheese Produced?
You can't use just any cows to make this cheese, though. Fontina is made using Valdostana Pezzata Rossa cows, an Italian breed of cows milked during the production of fontina cheese.
These cows are typically found enjoying and grazing the green grass in the pastures from the high-altitude region, which is why the cheese is so creamy and pungent.
The milk is first heated in copper cauldrons or vats before adding rennet and enzymes to curdle it. After the Italian cow’s milk cheese is formed, it is strained through a cheesecloth. The cheese is then salted and brined for some time and left to age in caverns for three months.
What Is Fontina Cheese Used For?
Young fontina or the less-aged varieties are typically served as a table cheese, usually on a charcuterie board. Consider serving it with sweet items like fresh fruits, raisins or figs for a nice contrast of flavors. When it comes to meat, ham is one of the best kinds to eat fontina cheese with.
Older varieties or aged fontina is best utilized by grating the cheese and adding it to soups or salads since they are firmer. Fontina cheese, like mozzarella, melts wonderfully so it's best used in hot dishes. The gooey nature of the cheese makes it perfect in recipes where you want a smooth consistency.
Fontina gives you a nice melt-and-stretch which makes it excellent for dips or sauces. It even works great with sandwiches, like a grilled cheese sandwich or casserole.
It is also used to make the traditional Italian dish Fonduta Alla Valdosta, made with fontina cheese that is whipped with milk, eggs, and truffles.
What Kind Of Cheese Is Fontina?
Fontina is a type of semi-soft cheese made from unpasteurized cow's milk in Aosta Valley in Italy. The original fontina cheese must be made in a specific region in Italy and follow a specialized production method to be called the true "fontina.”
When used as a table cheese, fontina is best consumed with crackers and bread. It is also used in pasta dishes, pizzas, and sandwiches.
Is Fontina Soft Cheese?
Fontina cheese is categorized as semi-soft to semi-hard cheese with small holes and a smooth surface. Its texture largely depends on the age and maturity of the cheese. Aged fontina typically has a firm and hard texture, while the younger version retains a softer texture.
Upon taking a bite, you'll notice that the cheese has a silky smooth and buttery texture with a somewhat savory and intense taste with hints of nuttiness.
Where Is Fontina Cheese From?
Fontina cheese hails from Italy from the Aosta Valley in the Alpines and is named after a village called Fontinaz. While the cheese goes by many names like fontinella, fontina Val d'Aosta is only awarded to those cheeses made in this specific region in Italy.
The original fontina cheese is made from red-spotted Valdosta cows that graze the high-altitude pastures in the Italian Alps.
Fontina is one of the first cheeses to be protected by a DOP, or "Protected Designation of Origin," which means only the cheese made from these particular cows can be deemed as the original.
What Does Fontina Cheese Taste Like?
Fontina cheese has a medium to sharp flavor with nutty and buttery undertones. The flavor profile also has a sweet milky, fruity accent with a herbaceous aroma.
The incredibly rich and creamy fontina cheese is pungent and can develop an intense flavor as it ages. The original fontina boasts a sharper flavor than its counterparts.
Adding it to different recipes can add a burst of flavor, adding a delicious nutty, buttery, and tarty taste.
What Does Fontina Cheese Look Like?
Fontina cheese has a pale to creamy yellow color with scattered small holes. It also has a tough beige or tan rind that toughens up as it ages and is sometimes coated in wax.
The cheese is made in wheels 13 to 15 inches in diameter and 4 inches thick.
Cheeses Similar To Fontina
While fontina is a remarkably versatile cheese that can be used in an array of dishes, there’re plenty of other cheeses that make worthwhile alternatives with similar taste, texture, and consistency.
Is Fontina Cheese Similar To Mozzarella?
Fontina and mozzarella cheese are both similar in terms of production. Making both kinds of cheese involves the stretch drying method, which results in them having a similar texture and consistency. And it’s also why they both melt exceptionally well.
However, they are not exactly the same, nor are they interchangeable. Mozzarella is made from buffalo milk and is a soft cheese that often doesn't require aging if served fresh.
Fontina vs. Fontinella
Fontina may sometimes be called fontinella. But make no mistake; the latter is not the original fontina cheese.
Authentic fontina cheese is made in Italy using Vostaldana cows, while fontinella cheese is typically produced in the U.S. using pasteurized cow's milk.
Fontinella is also a brand name, whereas fontina is a type of Italian cheese.
What Is The Difference Between Fontina And Gruyere Cheese?
Gruyere cheese is produced in a village in Switzerland. On the other hand, fontina is an Italian cow's milk cheese.
While both kinds of cheese boast a similar buttery, nutty flavor profile, gruyere cheese — particularly aged gruyere — has a more intense and pungent flavor than fontina.
Best Fontina Cheese Substitutes
If you're looking for a good substitute for fontina cheese, consider using gruyere cheese.
Gruyere cheese has a flavor profile, texture, and consistency similar to fontina cheese. Both kinds of cheese are semi-soft and made of cow's milk.
Emmental is another great fontina substitute that boasts a nutty flavor and is adorned with small holes.
Similarly, provolone, havarti, and gouda can also be used in recipes that call for delicious fontina cheese.
Yes, fontina cheese melts exceptionally well. It is best used in hot dishes where you want a smooth, creamy consistency. It also gives a nice cheesy stretch, like mozzarella.
Fontina cheese boasts an intense and pungent flavor with hints of nuttiness. It is creamy and buttery and tends to get sharper as it ages.
Fontina cheese is readily available in the cheese aisle or dairy section at grocery stores and supermarkets. You can also order it online from websites like amazon or cheese shops.
More food facts
- 1 ½ pounds fontina cheese, cubed rind removed
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oli
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Preheat broiler in the oven.
- Place cheese in a cast iron pan. Pour the extra virgin olive oil over the cheese. Top with salt and pepper.
- Broil for 5-6 minutes until the cheese is melted. Serve hot with bread, toast, crackers, or vegetables.