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Factors That Make The Difference

Terroir

As with wine and olive oil, cheese depends on terroir. What the animals eat makes the
difference. Processed feed produces processed cheese. In Italian cheeses, however,
climate and geography determine what grows on the land and therefore what goes into
the milk and into the cheese. In Italian DOP cheeses, what the animals are allowed to eat
is controlled by the government. No corn-fed, penned up animals here. Perhaps the cows
graze in the Dolomite Mountains, like the cows that produce the milk that becomes Asiago.
The sheep whose milk becomes Pecorino – which means “little sheep” – graze in the olive
groves of Sardinia. Eating a variety of fresh vegetation – grasses, herbs, and flowers –
rich in carotene, can create cheeses in subtle shades of nature’s gold. Not like the eye-
popping neon orange dyed cheeses Americans are used to.

Breed

In Italian cheesemaking, another DOP/IGP controlled factor is the breed of goat, sheep,
cow, or water buffalo. For example, the type of Parmigiano-Reggiano called Vacche Rosse
must be made from a special breed of rare red cows, which is what vacche rosse means.  
Most American cheese is made from the milk of only two types of cows, Holstein and
Friesian. The many breeds of Italian cows are adapted to local conditions and eat different
vegetation. Regardless of where they are, Holsteins and Friesians are all fed the same
thing.