Made in Italy's Val d'Aosta by a number of different cooperatives, fontina is a cow's milk cheese. The best are made from May through to September, during which time the herds graze on Alpine meadows. It has a smooth, semi-soft texture and a pale yellow interior, with an even scattering of small holes. The brown rind is thin and slightly oily. As it ages, its delicate, nutty, slightly honeyed aroma intensifies. Its creamy nature makes it very versatile, and it's particularly good melted.
All year round, with the best available from early summer to mid-winter.
Choose the best
Fontinas are also made in France, Denmark and the US but they tend to be a little bland in comparison. For the genuine article, look on the rind for the stencil of the name of the Val d'Aosta cooperative that made it, as well as their name for their particular cheese. In young fontina, the colour should be pale and milky, with a light, almost grassy smell. In older, drier cheeses, the flavour will be deeper and nuttier, the aroma fruitier.
Take the fontina out of the fridge and allow to return to room temperature (around 1-2 hours) before eating, so that the flavours and aroma can develop.
Keep wrapped in greaseproof paper inside a polythene bag, and store in the fridge - that way it should keep for around a week. Don't wrap it in clingfilm, as it will make it sweat, but foil is perfectly fine in the absence of greaseproof.
As part of a cheeseboard; grilled; in pasta sauces; with ham in panini bread; melted in fondue.
Try Provolone or Bel Paese.