Imagine you’re strolling through a street market in southern Italy when you smell something pleasantly familiar—it’s toasty and nutty, but also earthy and pungent. You follow your nose, with a suspicion that it’s drawing you towards melted cheese. And you’re right—but when you reach the stall, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Strung upon a long metal arm above burning embers is caciocavallo—a bulbous, yellow-white cheese—slowly melting above the flames. The vendor grabs the cheese and, using a knife, scrapes a generous heap onto a slice of bread. It’s gooey with a crisp, toasted layer. The intense flavor is fruity, funky, and smoky all at once. You have found caciocavallo impiccato, and it’s amore.
Though the dish is now a beloved street and festival food in southern Italy, the origins of caciocavallo impiccato are distinctly pastoral. For centuries, cow herders here have embarked on an annual journey known as transumanza, leading their livestock from lowlands to highlands for the summer grazing season. There was even a tradition of traveling between regions, from Puglia to Abruzzo or Molise, following an ancient path known as tratturo. It’s believed that caciocavallo impiccato was likely first devised in transit, the portable, hearty cheese conveniently held over the shepherds’ nightly fires and eaten with bread.
The ultimate comfort food, this melty street snack is well worth recreating at home. You can find caciocavallo in specialty cheese shops and Italian grocers, while caciocavallo impiccato kits are sold online (they come with an arm attachment for an outdoor grill). But for a simpler solution, try one of these DIY hacks. Just remember: No matter how you melt your caciocavallo, be sure to add a drizzle of honey for a true taste of southern Italy.
How to Enjoy
To ensure your caciocavallo gets that beautiful smoky, charred flavor, find a curved piece of metal—I’ve had luck with a crowbar—and some kitchen twine. Simply wedge the metal between the grates of your grill, and use the twine to hang the cheese about 12 inches above the flames. (The small bulb at the top of the caciocavallo makes it easy to hang.) You’ll know the cheese is ready when it starts to ooze slightly from the bottom. In a single motion, use a knife to scrape a layer of melted cheese onto bread or potatoes, then re-hang the unmelted portion.
… Or Try a Terrina
If you don’t have a grill (or a crowbar), there’s another solution—it’s a bit less dramatic, but just as delicious. Caciocavallo in terrina is a simple and quick oven-baked method of eating melted caciocavallo. The cheese is sliced or chopped before being placed in an earthenware bowl and topped with tomatoes, salami, or even eggplant. Bake it at 350°F to 375°F for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and slightly browned on top, then spoon it over bread or potatoes.