Provolone for me, as with many Americans, invokes the assembly line at a sub shop. “American or provolone?” they’d ask, fostering in me when young and impressionable plebian conclusions: three cheeses existed, these two, and cheddar, of course. (Unless cheese whiz placed in its own category, one couldn’t be sure).
I learned later, however, that although provolone is a normalized cheese in the American diet, the widely available, factory-made version is a weak shadow of its Italian prototype. Think, Wonder bread versus bakery loaves. Or Mall Santa to Real Santa.
The most surprising feature of Provolone (proh-voh-LOH-neh), to a first-time consumer, may be its flavor; that is, it has one. The antithesis of the bland, white circlets of sub shops, Provolone is salty and dense with a little bite. Yet it is still definitely unsophisticated – the workingman’s cheese.
My first encounter with this Italian staple was with a few slices slipped into my sandwich: turkey, provolone, mayo and lettuce on baguette. That’s all. It’s still my go-to, good-any-and-every-time sandwich. Delicious.
Provolone dolce, sweet or mild provolone, is the basic commodity, but there are variations, too. Try aged provolone for a cheese with some serious kick and pucker. Or, this holiday season, try a whimsical and quirky provolone pig, usually seen decorating Italian delis on rope. Our Pig in a Box is great for any host or hostess or for that man who has everything. A rough red wine pairs well with any of the above, whether dolce, piccante or piggy.