There’s a heated debate going around about which country produces better cheese. By sheer volume, France and Germany are at the top; by reputation, the French seem like they might have it in the bag, but when it comes to the most iconic names, Italy quickly shoots to the front of the race, being home to the most well-known cheeses in the world. Mozzarella, Parmesan, and Gorgonzola are all on the list of the world’s most famous and oft-consumed cheeses.
And therein, we’d argue, lies the problem.
With Italian cheeses being so famous, it shouldn’t be surprising that quantity has come close to overtaking quality. Even cheeses that have strictly Protected Designation of Origin or Protected Geographical Indication (i.e., can only be produced in specific areas, from specific ingredients, in specific ways) aren’t exempt. Parmesan, for example, has a Protected Designation of Origin. That doesn’t stop imitation parmesan (especially shredded or grated) from flooding the market.
Traditional Italian cheese has earned its glory. At their best, when manufactured in adherence to all the rules, they are second to none. Even better, dig a little deeper than the traditional grocery store cheese isle selection, and you’ll find they come in a diverse choice of texture and flavor, mellow to robust, fresh to aged, and sharp. But finding Italian cheese at its best requires recognizing the correct labels these days. We’re here to argue that Ambrosi, a manufacturer devoted to sharing Italy’s dairy traditions with the world, should be one of the names you keep in mind when it comes to Italian cheeses.
How “Ambrosi” Got Started:
It doesn’t matter how much you know about Italian cheesemaking traditions. If you love cheese, that’s already plenty of a reason to give Ambrosi products a try.
But if you need a little more reassurance, a peek at the manufacturer’s credentials if you will, then you should know that Ambrosi Group has been one of the premier producers and exporters of Italian dairy products since 1942 (they’re celebrating their 80th birthday this year!)
The story begins with Ottorino Ambrosi’s return from the war. His father, Luigi, a prosperous merchant himself, had purchased a butter factory in Via Carlo Zima in Brescia for his son to take over. Ottorino, all of 25 and fresh off his stint as an aviator in the Italian army, was full of energy and ideas on increasing production and diversifying the business. He was initially moderately successful, but the ongoing war didn’t allow him to diversify at his intended pace. In 1945 the factory in Via Carlo Zima was destroyed in a bombing raid. Instead of leaving the still young startup and trying his hand at something else, Ottorino took this as a sign that it was time for grand reconstruction.
Rebuilding everything from the ground up forced him to push back his diversification plan a little. Ottorino Ambrosi only started marketing cheeses full-force in the 1950s. But he didn’t do anything by half-measure, and he started the cheese production stage of his business with a bang: securing an opportunity to measure and market the Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses to a larger audience. Both cheeses had by this time acquired Protected Designation of Origin and had to adhere to very strict rules in the production process. In the 60s, the butter (while still a reliably successful product for the Ambrosi brand) had taken somewhat of a backseat. At that point, measuring and marketing cheese had become the main job of Ambrosi’s establishment. When in the 1970s, large-scale organized distribution became a trend in Italy, Ambrosi was well-equipped like no other to quickly establish itself on the market as a premier distributor of high-quality cheeses, many of them with protected status. By the 1980s, the production had expanded so much that the company had to build a new plant in Castenedolo.
Where is Ambrosi Nowadays:
It was Ottorino’s sons who took the company to a whole new level in the 90s. While the father concentrated on bringing quality products to the Italian consumer, the sons (Luigi and Giuseppe) were dreaming larger - they wanted to bring high-quality Italian cheeses to the entire world. The 90s and 2000s were the years of international expansion for the Ambrosi company. A successful expansion, by all accounts, as in the 2010s, they had to pivot and double down on expanding production to satisfy all of the markets they entered. In 2011, Ambrosi Group acquired Castiglione Bassi dairy company to increase their production of Grana Padano. In 2014, the Group acquired not one but two companies specializing in Parmigiano Reggiano manufacturing: Abele Bertozzi Spa (established in 1901) and La Traversetolese.
Today, Ambrosi Group manufactures ten cheese varieties with PDO status, along with beloved classics like mozzarella, mascarpone, and provolone that may not have protected status but sure do have love from cheese connoisseurs from all over the world.
Why You Should Know the Name “Ambrosi” if You Love Cheese:
Ambrosi Group always highlights that its values are still tightly tied to that of the Ambrosi family, going all the way back to Ottorino’s father, Luigi: family cohesion and strong attitude in business, but never at the expense of product quality.
It makes sense, considering the cheeses they’ve chosen as their primary products: the ones that can only be made in specific areas and only by adhering to strict guidelines. Ambrosi does not skip out on the effort and ingredients. Each new head of cheese is an investment that’s supposed to be perfectly crafted down to the time it’ll be aging: 12 to 24 to 30 to 40 months. Each label painstakingly marked.
Ambrosi Group’s paramount dedication is to traditions. They continuously press the importance of keeping Italian dairy traditions alive with their cheeses, keeping the process transparent and quality to the highest standards.
For Ambrosi Group, either the cheese that comes from under their label is illustrative of Italian traditions, or it might as well not have been made at all.
Take a look at the assortment of Italian cheeses from Ambrosi at Yummy Bazaar’s online store if you’ve already got an idea of which cheese you want to try. If not, we have a few suggestions about where you could start.
Where to Start with Ambrosi Cheese:
We’ve spoken (or, rather, wrote) so much about Ambrosi Group, specializing in PDO (or, instead, DOP - Denominazione di Origine Protetta, in Italian), that it would feel redundant if we didn’t point towards at least a few of them. But
Parmigiano Reggiano, DOP
Inarguably the most popular hard Italian cheese in the world, authentic Parmigiano Reggiano is renowned for its complex, rich flavor, mingling intensely savory notes with fruitiness and nuttiness. Ambrosi’s Parmigiano aging process ranges between 12 months and 40 months, greatly influencing its overall texture and aroma. The longer the cheese has been aged, the sharper its flavor and grittier its texture.
Pecorino Romano, DOP
Pecorino Romano is another classic hard Italian cheese. While not as popular as Parmigiano, it’s definitely in the running for the title of the most famous cheese in the world that’s made from sheep’s milk (Parmigiano is made from cow’s milk). Pecorino Romano has a hard and gritty texture which makes a great foil to its robust flavor. Aside from the earthy aroma characteristic of all sheep milk cheese, Ambrosi’s Pecorino has bursting notes of seared butter and strong spices due to its painstaking production process.
Scamorza is likely one of the most overlooked Italian cheeses around, and we couldn’t be happier that it’s been gaining more recognition these days. A pulled-curd cheese, it’s made with cow’s milk and has a unique, “clinched” shape: the manufacturing process involves tying a string around the cheese to hang it up to dry. Ambrosi’s smoked Scamorza has a dense texture and a smoky, slightly sweet flavor with distinct caramel undertones.
One of the best Italian cheeses, and Ambrosi does it so well! Burrata combines thin and tender mozzarella outer shell with soft and creamy stracciatella filling.
Buffalo’s Milk Mozzarella (with Truffle)
Ambrosi also has quite a lineup of Mozzarella (as a self-respecting Italian cheese manufacturer is wont to do) from classic fresh cow milk cheese to more rarely found mozzarella di buffala, from buffalo’s milk. But if you want specifically Ambrosi mozzarella, you should get one of their specialties: buffalo’s milk mozzarella with truffles! The truffles augment the tender milky flavor of mozzarella, adding more nutty and earthy tones to it, creating an unforgettable taste.
Gorgonzola is one of the most famous blue cheeses in the world, with French Roquefort possibly the only one that can compete with it in name recognition. Gorgonzola is made from unskimmed cow’s milk, and there are two distinct types (Ambrosi produces both of them). Gorgonzola Dolce is milder, with sweeter undertones, and has a light green-gray mold. In contrast, Gorgonzola Piccante has a sharper, more robust flavor and a dark blue-green mold. The difference in color and taste is premeditated by different types of mold used during the manufacturing process.
Ambrosi’s mascarpone is a picture-perfect example of the cheese’s classic description: soft, spreadable, silky texture and rich, buttery flavor with hints of sweetness, nuttiness, and a touch of acidity.
Asiago is a cow milk cheese that strongly differs in flavor and texture depending on whether it's sold fresh or aged. Asiago Pressato is the fresh Asiago, with a semi-soft buttery texture, delicate, milky flavor, and a great balance of sweet and sour notes. Asiago D’Allevo is the aged Asiago, with a semi-hard, firm texture and more robust, nuttier, and somewhat smoky flavor, reminiscent of Parmesan (though Asiago is milder and creamier).
This semi-soft, smear-ripened cheese doesn’t get the attention it deserves. If you want something new, Taleggio would likely be a good bet! It has a firm texture, but the rind is thin and moist, covering a delicate buttery cheese with a slightly earthy and nutty flavor reminiscent of truffles.
Rounding out the list is another classic: iconic Italian whey cheese with a soft and fluffy texture. Ambrosi’s ricotta has a delicate, slightly sweet flavor with distinct acidic notes. It accompanies both sweet and savory recipes perfectly.