Italian cheese, please

France may have two hundred and forty six cheeses, but Italy is no slouch when it comes to this delectable dairy food.

That should be no big surprise, since Italy is a land of many regions and even includes two major islands.

The Abbamare comes from Sardinia, one of those major islands. A semi-soft style, it is a delightful blend of sheep's milk and cow's milk. That's not a combination you see often in the supermarket. For another offering from this sun-drenched island, try some Formaggio Marcio. Made from sheep's milk, it's soft and mellow. But, beware! It's not for everyone, since it often contains live insect larvae who actually produce the texture.

The other major island is Sicily and it has many native cheeses to offer, including Ainuzzi. This delicious concoction of cow's milk made in Cammarata is definitely something to write home about... even if you live in Sicily.

You can eat many Italian cheeses just as they are or use them in cooking. Fontina is a prime example. It offers hints of honey that will make your fonduta stand out, or it can be served as is for dessert. Melt it over some Italian crackers and you may just want to skip lunch entirely.

Another cheese that works great in dishes like Tiramisu, a dessert cake is Mascarpone. Made from the cream skimmed off milk, this white, creamy treat is super as a spread, too. Take care, though. With a fat content nearly 75% a little goes a long way.

For something cheesy but quite a bit lower in fat content, try a little Romano. A frequent contributor to a great Italian recipe, it has only 27% fat content. But don't let that low number fool you. It is all taste. You might see it labled as Pecorino Romano, but pecorino is nothing more than a label for any cheese made from sheep's milk. Mmmm.... smooooothhhh.

Want something with a little more zing? How about a goat's milk cheese? Caprino is the perfect choice, then. Nothing can compare to a Caprino fresca for fresh, tangy flavor. With its brownish or reddish tinge (Remella or Cavalese style) it also adds a bit of color to the table.

Of course, who hasn't heard of Parmesan, or as it's known locally, Parmigiano? Hailing from northern Italy, it works great grated over spaghetti, as everyone in the world knows by now. But it is also terrific in small chunks on a cracker. With its slightly tart flavor, it can satisfy that craving for salty taste like none other.

For another well-known variety, let's not forget about the mighty Gorgonzola. It may sound like a movie monster, but this blue-veined Italian cheese is really a puppy. A wonderful smell, but with a bit of bite. Hailing from Piedmont and the mountains of Lombardy, it is a northern delight that gourmets the world over can enjoy.

Try some Italian cheese and you will never again think it is only a poor cousin to the French.