Thursday, March 11, 2010


The city of Ragusa has existed in one incarnation or another since 2000 BC.  Currently it is considered a historical treasure.  In the 17th century, an earthquake destroyed it.  It was rebuilt with stunning baroque architecture everywhere and now it houses several notable churches and cathedrals.  Having learned this about Ragusa very recently, I'll hope to visit there someday, but the way that the city even came on my radar in the first place was by way of the delicious cheese that is made there called Ragusano.

The cheese, Ragusano, has an interesting history rivaling that of the city from which it comes.  It was known to the Ancient Greeks and has been in production since that time.  When settlers from Sicily and other parts of Italy came to the United States, it became one of the number one imported cheeses.  It was essentially a commodity cheese like cheddar or Parmesan is now.  Traditionally, Ragusano had been made in big wheels, but because it is easier and more efficient to stack brick shapes in the hull of a ship, the cheese is now made that way instead.  In Sicily it is sometimes called Scaluni meaning step because it looks like a step in a staircase.

To make Ragusano, cheese-makers begin by boiling and stretching the curd just like Mozzarella.  This puts it in the family of pasta-filata (literally translated spun paste) cheese or stretched curd cheeses.  It can be eaten young in which case it is a mild and sweet, but if aged it becomes intensely salty and sharp, still exhibiting a subtle sweetness on the finish.  You're likely to get the young version only in Sicily - another reason to visit.  When aged, it has a crumbly texture, but there is still a satisfying bubblegum-like chewiness.

I love Ragusano for the spicy finish that makes my lips tingle a little.  One theory is that cheese made in hot places often has that spicy finish because of the diet of the cows who give the milk to make the cheese.  It can also be smoked in which case it carries that designation affumicato.  It is truly one of the more unique cheeses that I have ever had and I could eat it by the plateful with a glass of Marsala given the chance.

I hope you'll get the chance to try some Ragusano.  I'm going to experiment with it for cooking.  I imagine it would be delicious in a grilled cheeses sandwich, or shaved over a pasta dish or a salad.  Keep a look-out for it at your local cheese shop and pick some up if you see it.  You'll be happy you did.


  1. I will check for it at Whole Foods. Sounds yummy.

  2. That sounds amazing! Yet another cheese I have to hunt for.