Provolone is one of the comparatively newer traditional Italian cheeses: it seems to have popped up sometime around the 19th century and has become a staple of Italian cuisine since. However, it seems to be somewhat underappreciated outside its native country.
If you’re already a provolone cheese connoisseur, check out Yummy Bazaar’s assortment to stock your collection. But if you have no idea (yet) what it is, what it tastes like, and what to do with it, then follow us as we break it down below!
What is Provolone Cheese?
Provolone is a semi-hard Italian cheese made by stretching and kneading cheese curds until the cheese acquires a soft, elastic, and stringy texture. The cheeses produced this way are called Pasta Filata (“spun paste”) cheese. Mozzarella is the most popular among them.
Provolone is generally produced in two types:
Provolone Dolce is a young cheese that’s only aged 2 or 3 months. It has a smoother and silkier texture and a mild, creamy flavor somewhat reminiscent of mozzarella. However, unlike the latter, it’s richer, more buttery, and more complex, with distinct nuttiness already developing.
Provolone Piccante is aged provolone cheese that’s had at least four months to ripen and has come into its own, so to speak. It has a semi-hard but smooth and buttery texture, with a robust flavor that balances nuttiness, savoriness, sharpness, and pepperiness. It might not be as strong as some other hard Italian cheeses like pecorino or parmesan, but it’s distinct enough to be used in complex dishes without being overpowered.
Classic provolone cheese by itself doesn’t possess either a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) or a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), so it can be produced by manufacturers all over the world. However, the EU has afforded PDO status to two specific subtypes of provolone cheese: Provolone Valpadana, which can only be produced in areas around Milan to Udine, and Provolone del Monaco, that’s only made around Naples. Both these cheeses must adhere to strictly controlled production guidelines and pass strict quality control before they hit the market.
Top 9 Dishes to Try Cooking at Home with Provolone Cheese
The range of flavors between different provolone cheese types makes it a versatile asset in the kitchen, especially Provolone Dolce, with its mild and milky taste that goes well with both sweet and savory ingredients. Provolone Piccante might seem like a more limited option, but it’s fantastic with more strong, robust flavors, not allowing itself to be overpowered and adding a delightful sharpness to dishes.
Pro tip: while we might recommend which type of provolone cheese we think works better with certain recipes, you can rebel and try whichever version you feel fits best with your personal tastes! The kitchen, after all, is for experimenting, my friend!
Provolone Grilled Cheese
We really couldn’t start with anything else, now could we? With its excellent melting quality and robust flavor, provolone seems to have been created specifically to be used for grilled cheese sandwiches. I prefer using Provolone Piccante for classic grilled cheese or when stuffing the sandwich sky-high with tender, smoky ham (which, let’s be honest, is the only right way to do a non-vegetarian grilled cheese!).
The sharpness and spiciness in Provolone Piccante pair fantastically with the smoky flavors of the ham. Not a fan of ham? Substitute for your favorite smoked meat! The tremendous upside of Provolone Piccante is that its taste is not easily overpowered, but it's still mild enough not to dominate other ingredients in the sandwich fully. It’s also an excellent choice for a “bare” grilled cheese, as the flavor is robust enough to carry the sandwich by itself just fine.
Argentine-Style Grilled Provolone
In Argentina, there’s a cheese similar to provolone called Provoleta. It’s a pulled-curd cheese similar in texture and flavor to provolone cheese. In Argentina, having the Provoleta cheese grilled to enjoy as a snack is very common and can be done in two ways. The first is a bit more complicated and requires an open grill: the cheese is sliced into thick round slices and grilled until dark golden on both sides. It should be able to hold the form but turn gooey on the inside and pour out when you cut into the slice.
The second version is more manageable and can be easily done in the oven; you just need a small, sturdy pan, preferably a cast-iron skillet. The cheese is melted in the skillet until thick and golden, resembling a fondue, and then eaten with bread. Broil for a couple of minutes to finish if the cheese doesn’t develop the solid golden crust by that point.
Classic Italian Braciole
For a change, here’s a recipe that actually calls for provolone in the original! Braciole, a stuffed flank steak, traditionally served with tomato sauce. It looks luxurious and complex, but the recipe is pretty straightforward, so even a newbie chef can confidently try their hand.
Get the most straightforward part out of the way first and prepare the stuffing: you’ll just need to combine 1 part breadcrumbs, 1 part shredded provolone, 1 part grated parmesan, crushed garlic, and chopped parsley together. Then pound the flank steak until thin enough to roll, season with salt and pepper, spread the stuffing evenly on one side, roll into logs, and tie it closed with an oven-safe cotton string (like butcher’s twine). Brown the steak rolls on both sides in a deep skillet on the stove top, pour the tomato sauce over it once done, and pop it into the oven at 300°F until the meat is fully cooked through, periodically basting it; with the tomato sauce!
Classic provolone grilled cheese is king, but herby vegetarian panini is no slouch either! I prefer using the milder Provolone Dolce for this one, but, again, any provolone cheese will do. I like pairing it with fresh herbs like basil, cress, and arugula, as the fresh peppery taste from the herbs pairs so well with buttery rich but mellow cheese. But fill free to add tomato slices for extra freshness, grilled zucchini for texture, or sautéed mushrooms for more substantial flavor. The great thing about paninis is that anything you want goes.
Provolone Pasta Bake
I hope it’s abundantly clear by now that the biggest asset of provolone cheese is its versatility. Whether it’s Dolce or Piccante variety you’ve got on your hands, you can easily pair it with most other ingredients, which makes provolone an excellent choice for the “I’ve got a refrigerator to clean out” type of dishes!
For example, have some leftover pasta? Great, let’s through together a quick but super flavorful and satisfying pasta bake! I myself prefer using cream-based sauce, but other than that, my approach can be best described as “eclectic improvisation.” I’ve been known to put bacon, ham, salami, peas, corn, garlic, spinach, and more at different times, along with copious amounts of provolone and mozzarella cheese, and then topping it off with extra shredded parmesan. What can I say? I do believe there’s no such thing as too much cheese when it comes to a pasta bake.
Provolone Cheese Sliders
I love how easy, quick, and satisfying sliders can be when you put together the right ingredients. Frankly, ruining a beef-cheese-soft bread combo would be hard, to begin with, but using Hawaiian dinner rolls instead of blander alternatives, using a nice cut of beef (like sirloin), and topping it off with a flavorful cheese that goes well with everything (like provolone) can elevate the simple sandwich to new heights! I don’t like “overloading” my sliders, so I stick to just meat and cheese as a filling, but I do smother the rolls in melted herby butter before popping them in the oven to bake!
Provolone Zucchini Fritters
I don’t know if this is an unpopular opinion (I suspect it might not be), but I think most cheesy zucchini fritter recipes just don’t use enough cheese! The most generous amount I’ve come across is a 1:3 cheese to zucchini ratio, and let me tell you - I don’t think it’s enough at all!
Well, you just want cheese fritters then, not zucchini fritters, you may accuse me (my mother certainly has), and you know what? Yes, yes, I do. So either go big and do a 2:3 cheese to zucchini ratio in the fritters or go home! I feel like combining 1 cup of grated provolone cheese, and 1 cup of shredded parmesan (not that other cheeses can’t work, but we’re talking provolone right now!) per 3 cups of grated and strained zucchini works best. Add some fresh chopped parsley and a few teaspoons of Italian seasoning, and proceed as you would with classic fritters. Combine the zucchini, cheese, and herbs with two large beaten eggs and around ½ cup of all-purpose flour to thicken the mixture to resemble pancake dough. Fry from both sides until golden brown. You know, the usual deal.
If you’re the type of person to add jam in your grilled cheese, then congrats - provolone cheese pairs fantastically with most jams. My favorites are the ones with a bit of zing to them, like raspberry, blackberry, and orange marmalade. I, however, don’t like pairing jam with ham, so if I do crave a sweet provolone sandwich, I do an open grilled toast. And I use a microwave grill, which makes everything even more effortless. Simply grill a thick piece of bread from one side, flip it, top it off with thinly sliced provolone, and grill again until the cheese is melted. Add a generous dollop of your chosen jam and enjoy with some tea or coffee. An ideal breakfast, if there is one.
Provolone-Stuffed Baked Pear
If you’re feeling a little more inventive with your desserts, then do a baked pear with provolone cheese! Cut the pear into half, clear out the core and fill it with shredded provolone cheese. Bake until the pear is soft and golden and the cheese has fully melted. Top it with some honey, crushed nuts, a dollop of cream, or whatever else feels good at the moment!