Italian cheese in high demand abroad: Provolone, Asiago, Mascarpone


According to recent data from Assolatte, Association for Italian Companies in the Dairy Sector, high quantities of Italian products are being sold in France and Switzerland, particularly mozzarella, Grana Padano and Gorgonzola. The UK market is catching onto Provolone, with sales increasing by 18% in 2016, while China and Japan are going mad for Mascarpone and Ricotta.

by Editorial, translated by Philippa Cole

What relationship do foreign consumers have with Italian cheese? An excellent one judging by the map plotted by Assolatte to depict foreign sales. Even where there is no shortage of good cheese, notably in France and Switzerland (known strongholds of the dairy industry), the popular ‘made in Italy’ taste is becoming increasingly sought after.

  • Switzerland: if we consider the size and population, Switzerland has the greatest buying level of Italian cheese in the world. They reign supreme over mozzarella, Grana Padano e Parmigiano Reggiano, but not everyone knows that they represent the second biggest foreign market for asiago, a cheese highly appreciated across the country and with a good presence in local retail chains, which easily make up 20% of total exports.
  • France: for a few years now they have outperformed Germany, becoming the primary market for Italian dairy products. Each year they eat 1.2kg of Italian cheese per person and are the biggest consumers of Italian mozzarella: in 2016 they bought 30 million kilograms of the stuff. In 2016 Gorgonzola sales increased by 12% to 4,200 tons, impressive given France is the homeland to Roquefort, the dairy cousin to gorgonzola.
  • Germany: neighbours they may be, but German consumer habits differ greatly from those of the French. In fact, they love Italian hard cheeses above all and are the main foreign clients for Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano. For every two kilos of Italian cheese that arrives on German tables, just under half of that is Padano or Reggiano, bought whole, in pieces or pre-grated. The numbers are impressive: we are talking about 750,000 whole cheeses every year. Most noticable is the increasing interest in Gorgonzola, with imports increasing by 43% in just one year.
  • UK: 69 out of 100 people in the UK have put at least one “made in Italy” cheese in their shopping trolley in this past year. Mozzarella is the most popular at 62% of all purchases, followed by Parmigiano Reggiano in second place with 48%. Export data confirms such interest: in 2016 Italy exported approximately 35,000 tons of cheese (of that, 12,000 tons of mozzarella) to the United Kingdom. Provolone is also one to keep an eye on, sales increased by 18% in just one year.
  • Spain: Grana Padana is consistently the preferred choice which, having signalled a 29% increase in 2014 and 10% in 2015, closed last year with a further positive sign, exceeding 83,000 cheeses.
  • United States: a ‘paradise’ of Italian cheese. Although many have tried to imitate, with all Americans scouring supermarkets for the ‘real deal’, they never attain great success. All the main Italian cheeses are exported here, Italy being their number one supplier of foreign dairy products. And the number grows each year. Americans love Pecorino Romano, alone representing around 1/3 of all cheeses imported by the USA. At an export level there’s no competition: the United States are the primary clients for Pecorino Romano, absorbing around 1/3 of its entire annual production, and little short of 2/3 of its total exports. American tables show no shortage of Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano or Gorgonzola, with Provolone quickly becoming another real must. Lesser known favourites are Mascarpone and Taleggio, two specialities from Lombardy which are starting to find a place in American hearts.
  • Canada: the free trade agreement has been received with much interest from businesses. The export market is benefitting greatly from the significant increase in export limits (the quantity that can be exported without penalty duty fees), already exceeding 4,500 tons per year. The most loved cheeses? Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano. Gorgonzola is also worth mentioning, fighting many false alternatives found in the Canadian market.
  • Brazil: the Brazilians buy little Italian mozzarella, preferring Mascarpone and are currently discovering Gorgonzola and Provolone, which are growing year on year.
  • Japan: the most ‘Italian’ of all countries in Asia. Almost 40% of cheese departing Italy for the East arrives on the city tables of Japan. Mozzarella and Mascarpone are the most sought after and becoming consistently more widespread: in 2016 sale volumes increased by approximately 6%.
  • China: from Shanghai to Pekin, fresh cheeses are becoming increasingly popular. Mozzarella, Mascarpone and Ricotta: these varieties have witnessed the greatest import growth rate from Italy between 2015 and 2016. These are the cheeses that have brought Italian export to China, which in 2016 increased by 45%, exceeding 2,500 tons.
  • Australia: despite the less than helpful distance for fresh cheese export, Australians love Italian mascarpone, surpassing 370 tons in 2016. However, the greatest part of sales come from long-aged cheese, even if some lesser-aged products are seeing growth. In particular, Gorgonzola has surpassed 220 tons and Provolone has passed the 500-ton mark. Even for Asiago, Australia is an important destination, with sales higher than Italy’s neighbour, Germany.

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