Provolone and cheddar are two of the most popular cheeses found around the world.
They both have unique flavors and characteristics that make them well-suited for different dishes and uses.
But what exactly sets provolone apart from cheddar?
Origins and History
Provolone hails from southern Italy, where it has been produced since the late 18th century. The earliest known mention of provolone dates back to 1793 in literature from the Kingdom of Naples. Like mozzarella, provolone is a pasta filata style cheese made by stretching and pulling the curds. This process aligns the proteins into long chains, giving provolone its smooth, creamy texture.
Cheddar originated in the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England. The earliest reference to cheddar cheese dates all the way back to 1170 AD. Unlike provolone, cheddar curds are "cheddared" - piled on top of each other to squeeze out moisture. This gives cheddar its crumbly texture and allows for aging. Today, cheddar is produced worldwide - from its original home in the UK to the United States, Australia, and beyond.
Key Takeaway: Provolone comes from southern Italy while cheddar hails from England. Provolone uses a stretched curd method while cheddar's curds are stacked and pressed.
Flavor and Aroma
The flavors and aromas of provolone versus cheddar differ significantly:
- Provolone has a smooth, mild, and somewhat sweet flavor. It is tangy with a slight piquant note. When aged, provolone develops a more pronounced spicy and nutty taste.
- Cheddar is known for its sharp, robust flavor. It has a strong, biting taste that can range from mild to extra sharp depending on aging time. Older cheddars develop a characteristic nuttiness and earthiness.
- Provolone has a subtle aroma reminiscent of butter. Well-aged provolone gives off a more potent scent described as pungent.
- Cheddar has a noticeably sour and savory smell. Aged cheddar produces a powerful aroma with hints of nuts and fruit.
The intensity of both cheeses' flavors and smells intensifies with extended aging. But even young versions have distinguishing provolone sweetness versus cheddar sharpness.
Key Takeaway: Provolone has a mild, tangy, and subtly sweet taste and aroma. Cheddar is bold, sharp, and robust in flavor with a characteristic sour scent.
Texture and Appearance
There are also key differences between provolone and cheddar in terms of texture and visual characteristics:
- Provolone has a smooth, creamy consistency thanks to its stretched curd production. It is pliable with a softer bite. When aged, provolone becomes firmer but remains easy to slice or shred.
- Cheddar has a crumbly, crunchy texture resulting from the cheddaring process. Older cheddar becomes progressively more brittle. This makes it perfect for crumbling or grating.
- Provolone has an even pale yellow color. It comes shaped into large rounds, cylinders, or salami-like sausages. Smoked provolone has a golden brown exterior.
- Cheddar ranges from white to orange in hue. Natural cheddar is ivory while many commercial varieties use annatto for a yellow-orange color. Cheddar is formed into blocks, slices, or crumbles.
Provolone is smooth and pliable while cheddar is crumbly and firm in texture. Provolone also retains its pale yellow color during aging compared to cheddar's color variations.
Key Takeaway: Provolone has a creamy, pliable consistency and pale yellow color. Cheddar is crumbly in texture with a range of hues from white to orange.
How do provolone and cheddar compare nutrition-wise? Let's examine the macros and vitamins/minerals in each:
- Calories: Cheddar is higher in calories with 404kcal per 100g versus 351kcal in provolone. The extra calories come from cheddar's higher fat content.
- Fat: Cheddar contains 33.8g of fat per 100g while provolone has 26.6g. So cheddar has around 27% more total fat.
- Protein: Provolone wins here with 25.6g of protein per 100g compared to 24.3g in cheddar. So provolone packs about 5% more protein.
- Vitamin A: Cheddar has a higher vitamin A content with 1242 IU versus 880 IU in provolone.
- Calcium: Provolone leads in calcium with 756mg per 100g compared to 710mg in cheddar.
- Sodium: Provolone has more sodium at 876mg per 100g versus 653mg in cheddar.
Cheddar is higher in calories, fat, and vitamin A while provolone contains more protein, calcium, and sodium. From a health perspective, provolone has a slight edge with its higher protein and calcium levels.
Key Takeaway: Cheddar is higher in calories and fat compared to provolone's greater protein and calcium content. Provolone also contains more sodium.
The aging or "ripening" process impacts the final flavor, texture, and quality of both provolone and cheddar:
- Provolone is aged for a minimum of 4 months but often for 6 months up to a year. This allows its flavors to sharpen and texture to firm up.
- Cheddar is aged from 3 months to over a year. Longer aging gives cheddar a more crumbly texture and increasingly strong, complex taste.
- Mild provolone is aged for just 2-3 months and has a very subtle flavor. Medium provolone matures for 4-8 months, becoming firmer and developing more taste. Sharp provolone is aged for over a year, taking on a robust flavor and crumbly texture.
- Mild cheddar ages for only 2-3 months and has a creamy, delicate flavor. Medium cheddar ripens for 4-7 months and is moderately sharp. Old or extra sharp cheddar is aged for a year or longer, gaining a very powerful cheddar bite.
So both cheeses become more flavorful and crumbly during extended aging. But provolone takes at least a couple months longer than cheddar to achieve a comparable sharpness.
Key Takeaway: It takes provolone around 4-6 months to develop full flavor versus 3-4 months for most cheddars. Long-aged versions of both have a crumbly texture and robust taste.
Due to their differing properties, provolone and cheddar excel in different culinary applications:
- Provolone works great in baked dishes because it melts smoothly. It's commonly used on pizza and in lasagna, pasta bakes, and stuffed breads.
- Cheddar holds its shape well when cooked. It's perfect for grilling in sandwiches or burgers, topping baked potatoes, and binding casseroles.
- Provolone pairs well with meats like salami, prosciutto, and pepperoni. Its mild flavor doesn't overpower cured meats.
- Cheddar complements heartier meats like beef, turkey, and pork. Its sharp bite stands up to meaty flavors.
- Provolone shines in antipasto spreads with olives, peppers, and cured meats. Its smooth texture makes it easy to slice or cube.
- Crumble cheddar over salads, soups, and tacos to take advantage of its crumbly nature. Its orange color also brightens up dishes.
Provolone melts beautifully in baked dishes and complements charcuterie boards. Cheddar holds shape when cooking and its color and crumbles work great as a topping.
Key Takeaway: Provolone melts smoothly so works well in casseroles and on pizza. Cheddar is better for grilling and as a crumbled topping.
Is provolone cheese similar to cheddar?
No, provolone and cheddar are distinct cheeses. Provolone has Italian origins, is made by stretching the curd, and has a milder, sweeter flavor. Cheddar hails from England, uses a cheddaring curd method, and is more robust and sharp.
Can you substitute provolone for cheddar?
You can substitute provolone for cheddar in some applications but not others. Provolone works well in place of cheddar in casseroles, baked pastas, and sandwiches because it melts smoothly. But provolone won't mimic cheddar's crumbly texture that's better for grilling, shredding, and topping.
Is provolone healthier than cheddar?
From a nutritional standpoint, provolone has a small advantage over cheddar. Provolone packs more protein and calcium per serving and is slightly lower in fat and calories than cheddar - making it a marginally healthier choice overall.
Does provolone or cheddar cost more?
There is no consistent price difference between provolone and cheddar overall. Cost varies more based on factors like brand, age, imported versus domestic, and specialty versus mass-market cheese. Top-quality artisan cheddar and imported aged provolone often have the highest prices.
Can I freeze provolone or cheddar cheese?
You can freeze both provolone and cheddar to extend their shelf lives. Make sure to wrap the cheese thoroughly in plastic then foil. Thaw slowly in the fridge before using. Freezing can impact the texture, making the cheeses more crumbly once thawed. But the flavor remains largely unchanged.
Cheddar is bolder, sharper, and firmer while provolone is milder, smoother, and creamier.
Cheddar adds great flavor when grated or melted while provolone excels in baking applications and on cheese boards.