Sardinian cheeses you must try
Cheese is big news in Sardinia. There are more than 3,500,000 sheep, goats and cows on this Italian island, with its rich and varied dairy industry. The sheep population alone makes up 40% of the total amount in Italy. It’s also 2.5 times more than the amount of people living on the island. Saying that, cheese production is abundant in Sardinia, and the varieties are aplenty.
Sheep and goats provide high-quality milk to produce Sardinian cheeses — the most popular exports being pecorino and ricotta. However, they’re not the only ones worth trying. There’s a wide range of cheese in Sardinia, and these 5 are some of the most popular.
Sardinian cheeses to try on your travels
Fiore Sardo DOP – cheese in Sardinia
The most common pecorino is Fiore Sardo DOP. It’s also known as Pecorino Sardo – a raw, hard cheese made from whole sheep’s milk. This cheese was given DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) status in 1996. In short, this certification assures its buyers that the product has been made, and packaged, locally. When you see the DOP label, this means the milk was sourced from a single local Sardinian flock.
Pecorino Sardo is made from unpasteurised sheep’s milk and has a dense and firm texture. The cheese’s nutty and salty texture is widely used in pesto sauces, or freshly grated over pasta dishes and salads. It’s also a good pairing with Sardinian Malvasia wine.
Nowadays, they add lamb rennet to the process of making the Fiore Sardo DOP, but this wasn’t always the case. Taking after its name ‘fiore’ (flower), the original coagulating component they used in the cheese was the powder from cardoon flowers. Sadly, this means Fiore Sardo isn’t suitable for vegetarians or vegans.
The intensity of the cheese can vary according to the length of maturation. Less mature Fiore Sardo DOP makes an ideal appetizer for aperitivo. More mature pecorino goes well on roast potatoes, sausages, fresh tomatoes and of course, on pasta.
Cheesy rating *****
Sardinian cheeses – ricotta
There are 3 popular varieties of ricotta cheese in Sardinia: smoked matured, ricotta mustia and ricotta salata. The Sardinian varieties are all made using fresh sheep’s milk.
Smoked matured ricotta and ricotta mustia contains vegetable rennet and are therefore suitable for vegetarians. They’re both buttery in texture, though the ricotta mustia is more solid than the smoked.
Both varieties are versatile for use in cooking and also as an appetizer. Its aromas also differ, given that the smoked matured ricotta takes on the flavors of the smoked Mediterranean foliage.
As its name suggests, ricotta salata is saltier than the other varieties. This makes it a good ingredient for cooking, rather than an appetizer, as it naturally adds flavor to the dish. This ricotta is also ideal to use in sweet or savory dishes, such as ravioli and traditional Sardinian desserts.
Cheesy rating *****
Casizolu– cheeses to try in Sardinia
In the Montiferru area of Sardinia, near the town of Oristano, farmers make the pear-shaped Sardinian cheese, casizolu. It differs from the other cheeses made on the island, in that it’s made from whole cow’s milk. The typical breeds they take the milk from are Sardinian-Bruno and Sarda-Modicana cows.
White to pale yellow in colour, Casizolu is also one of Sardinia’s ancient dairy cheeses. It has been labelled as a Slow Food Presidium product, meaning it’s one of the world’s endangered heritage foods. Farmers that make casizolu belong to the Montiferru Casizolu producers’ association. They follow a production protocol to make the cheese to the same standards as their ancestors.
In the past, it was the women that made this stretched-curd cow’s milk cheese. They would first process the fresh milk, and then work the curds in hot water. The final stage would be forming the cheese into its unique pear shape. Nothing is thrown away during the process of making casizolu. The whey water they use when spinning the curds is used as the broth for a cheese soup called s’abbagasu.
When the cheese is aged longer, it tends to be spicier in flavour. Casizolu cheese is widely used for the filling in the Sardinian classic fried delicacy, sebadas.
Cheesy rating ***
“There are more than 3,500,000 sheep, goats and cows, equaling a rich and varied industry in Sardinia.”
Sardinian cheeses – Casu Marzu (maggot cheese)
To put it bluntly, casu marzu is one Sardinian cheese that won’t be to everyone’s liking. Casu Marzu, otherwise known as ‘maggot cheese’, is a Sardinian delicacy that’s only made on the island.
It literally translates to rotten cheese because it contains live maggots. Once Casu Marzu is ready, they cut a hole in the top, and put the cheese outside where cheese flies come and basically set up home on its surface. The live insect larvae ferment the cheese to an extreme degree, giving Casu Marzu a softer consistency as it develops its flavor.
While it may not sound tempting to fellow non-Sardinians, the locals are crazy for it. So much so, it’s common to find this cheese at big celebrations like weddings and birthdays.
Casu Marzu is in fact illegal in the EU, given the health and safety issues surrounding this Sardinian cheese. Many Sardinians believe that it’s dangerous to eat when the maggots are dead.
It’s not surprising then, that it’s not easy finding this cheese in Sardinia. Your best bet at tasting it is to gain the trust of locals that can source it for you. Alternatively, you can also find a restaurant that serves it (on the downlow), and make friends with its owner!
Whether you choose to try casu marzu or not, there’s no question it’s one of Sardinia’s most notable cheeses.
Cheesy rating **
Casu Agedu– cheese to try in Sardinia
Casu Agedu is a typical shepherd’s cheese that comes from the Ogliastra region of central-eastern Sardinia. There are other names by which the cheese is also known by, such as Casu Axedu, Frue, Fruhe and Frughe. Like Casizolu, Casu Agedu is also a Slow Food Presidium product.
This Sardinian cheese contains raw goat or sheep’s milk, and is then left to curdle for 24 hours. It’s kept at a lukewarm temperature, similar to how they’d make yogurt. A fresh cheese, without a crust, it’s white in color and has a sour taste.
Casu Agedu is produced in small rectangular shapes and is also normally eaten fresh. Mature varieties tend to be salty and spicy in flavor, making them ideal ingredients for soups and pasta fillings. During summer, many households in Ogliastra eat casu axedu for lunch or dinner, pairing it with a glass of wine.
You can also preserved Casu Agedu with salt, which in turn makes another cheese called Su Casu ’e Fitta. Locals use the cheese in many recipes in Ogliastra, as well as for making traditional Sardinian pasta called culurgiones.
Cheesy rating ****
Other noteworthy Sardinian cheeses to try include Casu Friscu (sheep’s milk), Fresa (soft and buttery) and Gioddu (creamy and white).
Where to stay in Sardinia?
Rather than basing your stay in one location, I advise spending a night in different places on the island. The north of the island towards La Maddalena archipelago is popular with Italian holidaymakers, but also more expensive.
However, I’d still encourage staying at a hotel here, if only for 1 night. La Coluccia is a beautiful 4-star boutique hotel in the north of Sardinia. It’s 50 yards from the sandy beach, and also a good location for catching the ferry to La Maddalena. There are 45 rooms and suites at this Sardinia boutique hotel, plus a magnificent spa where you can recharge. Check here for prices and availability.
Hotel Eliantos Cagliari
In the south of the island in the Sardinia capital of Cagliari, is one boutique hotel stealing the show. There are just 14 rooms at Hotel Eliantos, where each room overlooks the private garden or terrace.
They’re also big on hospitality at Hotel Eliantos, and each guest is made to feel right at home. Other facilities worth mentioning are the outdoor pool and wellness centre, which has a Turkish bath and Finnish sauna. You can check here to compare dates and prices.
What do you think of these Sardinian cheeses? Which one/s would you like to try? Let me know in the comments below!
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