Provoleta, one of the staples of classic Argentinian asados (BBQs), is an appetizer made with grilled cheese, a name that sounds very Italian and which in fact derives from the name of the famous Italian provolone cheese.
How to prepare provoleta
Provoleta is made from a slice of provolone cheese of Italian origin, ½ to ¾ inch (1 to 2 cm) thick, with a diameter between 4 and 6 inches (10 and 15 cm).
Tradition has it that provoleta is cooked directly on the parilla (grill) and it is also said to be an art. Indeed, this cheese adapts perfectly to cooking on embers thanks to its low fat content and its higher fiber content. However, it can also be cooked in a pan or even in the oven.
Whatever the chosen cooking method, one thing is sure, the cheese must melt and it must be served immediately.
The technique for cooking provoleta should allow a crispy cheese on the outside and a melting cheese on the inside.
Small discs of provoleta, about 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) in diameter and ½ to ¾ inch (1 to 2 cm) thick, are often eaten at the start of an asado in Argentina, before grilling the meat. The cheese, often garnished with chili flakes and oregano, is placed directly on the grill.
Provoleta can be accompanied by chimichurri sauce, a mixture of oil, condiments and spices, and is often eaten with toast.
How to use provoleta
Apart from parilla, provoleta or provolone can be used in cooking in grated form, in pasta or in gratin dishes. It is also excellent in fritters that can be enjoyed as a starter. It is also possible to prepare grilled cheese sandwiches, croque-monsieur or mixed salads of all kinds when it is cut into cubes.
It can also be used to garnish pizzas, bruschettas or hot sandwiches like panini in Italy.
It can also be enjoyed in the form of thin sticks, with a little olive oil, fleur de sel, pepper and dry or fresh herbs.
What is the origin of provolone?
Provoleta is a trademark of a cheese with the specific name of El Queso Provolone Hilado Argentino.
The queso provolone hilado argentino, as its name suggests, is a purely Argentinian cheese, and the need to unify Argentinian-Italian eating habits led to the idea of introducing a typically Italian product such as provolone in the traditional Argentinian barbecue.
Provolone is an Italian cow’s milk cheese produced in northern Italy, in the regions of Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto. Originally from Mezzogiorno, in the south of Italy, provolone is however mainly produced in the north of Italy, in Lombardy.
It obtained its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in 1996, certifying that the production of provolone is strictly supervised, using specific methods to guarantee its quality. The striking uniformity of the provolone and its absence of holes are the result of careful work during manufacture.
One of its great features is the diversity of its shapes and sizes. You can find provolone in the form of a sausage, a pear, or even a ball.
There are very large ones, the provollissimi, which can weigh 80 lb (40 kg) and more. During exhibitions, some cheeses molded into sausage shapes from 100 to 150 lb (200 to 300 kg) called provoloncini or gigantone, have been presented.
The wide variety of shapes and sizes in which it is made is characteristic of string cheeses, which are scalded to increase their plasticity, before they are molded by hand. This is why provolone is known by many different names, taking the names of other products that have a similar shape: the cylindrical variants thus bear the name of salami or pancettoni, while the spherical variants are called meloni. Other names refer to the size of the cheese.
It comes in two kinds of flavors:
- The spicy provolone and the sweet provolone.
- The strong provolone is aged for more than 16 months while the mild provolone is aged for only 4 months.
- 1 slice provoleta or provolone of about ½ to ¾ inch (1 to 2 cm) thick
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes
- 4 tablespoons flour
- Olive oil
- Cast iron skillet (4 to 6 inches / 10 to 15 cm)
- Coat the provoleta slice with flour and dust off.
- Preheat the BBQ to 400 F (200˚C).
- Sprinkle oregano and chili flakes over the provoleta slice.
- Place the provoleta slice on the grill and close the BBQ.
- Grill the slice for a few minutes and turn the slice over with a spatula.
- Leave to grill for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove from the grill with the spatula.
- Preheat the oven to 400 F (200˚C).
- Pour a little olive oil into the bottom of a cast iron skillet.
- Sprinkle oregano and crushed chili over the provoleta.
- Place the provoleta slice in the skillet.
- Cover the skillet with aluminum foil, and bake in the top rack of the oven.
- Cook for 8 to 10 minutes.
- Remove the aluminum, and switch the oven to the grill position.
- Continue to grill for 1 to 2 minutes or until the provoleta begins to bubble on the surface.
Provolone is produced in South America and North America but only in its mild form. The provolone piccante (sharp provolone) is exclusively produced in Italy.
The golden yellow crust of the provolone can be waxed. The mild provolone has rather lactic aromas while the sharp provolone has more smoky aromas. Indeed, its flavor becomes more pronounced with age and its supple and creamy texture.
Provolone is a semi-raw, string cheese made with whole cow’s milk, with fermentation acidity. It is coagulated with calf rennet for the sweet type. The sharper cheese is rather coagulated with rennet of kid or lamb.
The two cheeses complement each other perfectly, each serving as an accompaniment to specific dishes or can be eaten alone.
One thing is clear, provolone was already among the cheeses known and consumed by the Ancient Romans. Lucius Iunius Moderatus Columella, a Roman agronomist from the first half of the 1st century, born in Gadès (now Cadiz in Spain), speaks in his famous work, the treaty De re rustica, of a cheese “pressed by hand”, which is characteristic of provolone.
Provolone is so named with reference to the term prova, which means “round cheese” in the dialect of Campania, a region in southwestern Italy known for its ancient ruins and spectacular coastline, including Naples, a city that conceals many treasures, is the capital.
What is the origin of provoleta?
Don Natalio Alba (1902-1983), Calabrian by birth, settled in Argentina at a very young age and worked in the dairy industry. His greatest desire was to integrate the food traditions of the two countries, taking into account the large number of Italian inhabitants in Argentina.
Considering that cheese is essential in Italian gastronomy, and meat in Argentine gastronomy, he considered it necessary to introduce Italian cheese into the Argentinian barbecue.
Thus was born the now popular Argentinian provolone which he named provoleta, thus making this creation a tradition of Argentine gastronomy.
The cheese was therefore made for the first time in 1940 with a lot of research and effort, because it was necessary to obtain a product which should not melt during cooking but whose interior could be melted. It was therefore not until 1963 that the trademark was registered.