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What is Caciocavallo Cheese?

By Mandi R. Hall
Updated May 16, 2024
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Caciocavallo cheese is known for its characteristic shape. Often compared to the contours of a pear or gourd, the cheese has a prominent ball on top, tied with a string. Smooth in texture, it is made of sheep’s milk or cow’s milk. It is most often produced in parts of Italy and the Balkans. Generally mild in taste with a somewhat salty bite, Caciocavallo cheese is often compared to other cow’s-milk cheeses, such as provolone. It also has an edible rind.

Caciocavallo cheese dates back to roughly the 14th century. With a name that connotes “cheese on horseback,” it is often assumed that Caciocavallo was made of mare’s milk centuries ago. More probable, however, is that the cheese’s curds were placed “a cavallo," meaning "on horseback," which reflected the way they looked when they were situated to hang along a horizontal stick in order to dry. The same drying method exists in modern times.

The process of making Caciocavallo cheese is similar to that of making mozzarella cheese. In fact, both cheeses are deemed “stretched-curd” cheeses. During the process, the unpasteurized milk is heated to approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and curdled. The curds are cut into smaller pieces — about the size of a grape — and left to thicken for several hours.

When the curds are firm enough to be shredded into stringy segments, the strings are stretched and wound into a ball. During the winding, consistent pressure is applied to the ball so no recesses are left inside of it. The outside of the ball is also made to be smooth in this manner. When the ball of Caciocavallo cheese is large enough, it is drowned in a bath of boiling water to seal the outside. Afterwards, a soak in cold water lowers the cheese’s temperature.

Following the baths, the newly-formed Caciocavallo cheese is cured in brine. The brining process can take anywhere from several hours to a few days. At this point, the string is tied around the cheese — producing the distinct ball at its top — and hung to dry for at least a couple of weeks.

The more it is aged, the easier it is to grate. As the cheese gets older, it turns from a milky white to a darker yellow. Caciocavallo cheese also gains saltiness with age. Considered a young, though edible, cheese after two months or so, aged Caciocavallo is usually preferred by cheese connoisseurs. It is also deemed a table cheese. Caciocavallo cheese is also available in a smoked variety.

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Discussion Comments
By anon346885 — On Sep 01, 2013

I am looking for calciocavallo hanging cheese. --Alan W.

By SZapper — On Oct 08, 2011

@sunnySkys - I'm not a big fan of the rind, but I'll eat it to get to the rest of the cheese if I have to!

My favorite thing about caciocavallo cheese is the way it looks! Usually most places that sell it have it hanging up on a string. As the article said, it's shaped like a ball, with a smaller ball on top. It kind of looks like a Christmas ornament. A delicious, edible Christmas ornament made out cheese that is!

By sunnySkys — On Oct 07, 2011

I really like when "fancy" cheeses have an edible rind. I don't know why, but I always feel so wasteful when I'm throwing away a rind from a cheese with an inedible rind.

Anyway, I love all kind of cheese, and caciocavallo is no exception. I had this over at a friends house grated on pasta, and it was delicious! At first I thought it was some kind of grated Parmesan, but my friends set me straight quickly!

Like I said, it was good, but I was sad after I finished eating. No stores near my apartment sell this cheese! My friend had actually gotten it on a trip overseas. So it was extra nice of them to share it with me!

By Mykol — On Oct 07, 2011

I have a wonderful baked eggplant recipe that I like to use Caciocavallo cheese in. When eggplant is in season, I will make this meal several times.

This recipe is similar to lasagna except I replace the meat with eggplant. I also like to sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on the top.

The slightly salty taste of the melted Caciocavallo cheese blends in perfectly with the eggplant. Served with a salad and some fresh bread and you have a wonderful meal.

By golf07 — On Oct 06, 2011

@nextcorrea - If you love a good pizza and have a chance to try some with melted Caciocavallo cheese on it, you will love it.

There is one market close to me where I can find this cheese and love making my own pizza at home with this. I will often combine it with some grated mozzarella cheese. I like lots of cheese on my pizza and this is one of my favorites.

It tastes great in any Italian dish that you would use mozzarella cheese for. The only bad thing is, it can be hard to find depending on where you live.

By nextcorrea — On Oct 05, 2011

I'm really intrigued by the sound of this cheese. Can anyone recommend a dish that it is really good in? The article mentions that this is a table cheese but I tend to think that all cheeses get better when they get melted. I'd love to try cooking with this but this is the first time I've ever heard of it.

By whiteplane — On Oct 05, 2011

I've had Caciocavallo cheese a few times and always liked it. Its not like a swiss or a sharp cheddar, It doesn't have a very strong or super distinct flavor but it has a nice mild creaminess and is a good compliment in dishes where you don't want a really intense cheese flavor.

I was first introduced to it by a few friends who are Bosnian. They swear by it and always seem to have a big container of it in their fridge when I go over. Here in St. Louis we have a pretty large Bosnian population and it is not uncommon to see Caciocavallo cheese in even the big chain grocery stores.

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