Last Updated on September 4, 2023 by Aaron
Provolone and mozzarella are both popular Italian cheeses that have found their way into a wide variety of dishes around the world. But, they are not the same.
In essence, provolone is an aged cheese while mozzarella is a fresh cheese. Provolone has a sharper and tangier flavor profile, whereas mozzarella is characteristically mild and creamy. In terms of texture, mozzarella is soft and known for its stretchiness, especially when melted, while provolone has a firmer, semi-hard consistency.
Thus, provolone is often used in sandwiches and salads. Mozzarella, on the other hand, is known for its meltability, commonly used in dishes like pizza and Caprese salad.
Before we move on, there are distinct differences between fresh mozzarella and regular “processed” mozzarella that we normally use.
Fresh mozzarella is a soft, moist cheese with a delicate, milky flavor, traditionally sold in balls submerged in brine or whey. In contrast, regular mozzarella, often termed “low-moisture mozzarella,” is firmer, has a milder taste, and is typically sold in blocks or pre-shredded, making it more suitable for dishes like pizza due to its superior melting qualities and reduced moisture content.
Here’s an at-a-glance table for a quick comparison:
|Origin||Southern Italy||Southern Italy|
|Texture||Firm and smooth||Soft, moist, and stretchy|
|Taste||Mild to sharp (depends on aging)||Mild, milky|
|Color||Pale yellow to golden||White|
|Milk||Cow||Traditionally water buffalo (for Mozzarella di Bufala) but commonly cow for most commercial varieties|
|Production||Aged cheese; made by curdling milk, shaping, and then aging||Fresh cheese; made by curdling milk and then stretching and kneading the curd|
|Melting Quality||Good, but doesn’t stretch as much as Mozzarella||Excellent – often used for pizzas due to its stretchy melt|
|Age||Varies: few months to 2+ years||Typically not aged or aged for a short time|
|Fat content||Generally higher than Mozzarella, but varies with the type||Generally less fat than Provolone, but there’s variation especially with part-skim vs whole milk varieties|
|Uses||Sandwiches, salads, sometimes on pizzas, eaten on its own||Pizzas, lasagna, salads, caprese, eaten on its own|
Pasta filata refers to a family of cheeses, including mozzarella and provolone, that are made by stretching and kneading the curd while it’s still warm. The process of dipping in hot water, see below:
Provolone belongs to the pasta filata cheese family and is a semi-hard cheese made from cow’s milk. The cheese is aged, which is why it has a more pronounced flavor compared to some other cheeses in the same family. It can be found in various versions, ranging from mild (Provolone Dolce) to sharp (Provolone Piccante), determined by the duration of its aging process. Provolone’s texture is smooth and firm, often with a golden-yellow exterior due to the wax or rind. Its uses span from sandwiches and salads to being eaten on its own, paired with wines or fruits.
Mozzarella, on the other hand, is best known for its soft, moist texture and delicate flavor. Like provolone, mozzarella is also a member of the pasta filata cheese family and is primarily made from cow’s milk, although the traditional “Mozzarella di Bufala” is made from water buffalo milk, providing a richer taste and creamier texture. There are several varieties of mozzarella, such as fresh mozzarella, which is often found in salads like Caprese, or the low-moisture type, which is widely used on pizzas. Mozzarella has an unmistakable stretchy quality when melted, making it a favorite for many culinary applications.
It’s also worth noting that both cheeses have regional Protected Designation of Origin statuses in the EU, which means that for a cheese to be labeled as such, it must be produced in a specific way and in a specific region.
The Flavor of Variety
Generally, provolone has a stronger and more pronounced flavor compared to mozzarella. While mozzarella is known for its mild and creamy taste, provolone, especially when aged, can develop a sharper and tangier flavor profile.
However, that can also depend on the various forms and preparations. There are different types of mozzarella, for example:
- Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP: This is the most renowned variety of mozzarella, made from the milk of water buffaloes raised in specific regions of Italy, particularly Campania. Creamy, tangy, and rich. This is fresh mozzarella at its finest with a pronounced milky flavor.
- Fior di Latte: Creamy and mild, it’s a lighter, cow’s milk alternative to the robust flavor of buffalo mozzarella. The term “fior di latte” translates to “flower of the milk,” indicating its freshness and purity.
- Mozzarella Affumicata: This is smoked mozzarella. It possesses a golden brown outer layer and a smoky flavor, resulting from the smoking process. Similar in texture to other fresh mozzarellas but with a smoky flavor.
- Low-moisture Mozzarella (also known as aged mozzarella): Allowed to age for a longer period, resulting in a firmer texture and a slightly tangier, denser taste compared to fresh mozzarella. It’s commonly used in dishes that require melted cheese, such as baked ziti or traditional American-style pizzas, because it melts more uniformly and doesn’t release as much water.
Different provolone gives you different tastes as well, the main types include:
- Provolone Dolce (Sweet): Mild with a smooth, creamy texture. It’s less aged and has a gentle sweet, milky taste.
- Provolone Piccante (Sharp): Aged longer than the Dolce variety, it’s more crumbly and has a bold, tangy flavor.
- Provolone Mandarone: Often reserved for special occasions, it’s a subtype of Piccante but aged even longer, sometimes over two years. It has a very sharp and complex flavor.
Mozzarella, particularly the fresh variety, has a high moisture content. This soft, white cheese is typically consumed within a week of being made. When stored properly in the refrigerator, fresh mozzarella can last up to a week or a little more after its “sell-by” date.
For provolone, the aging not only develops its flavor but also contributes to its extended shelf life. When stored properly, Provolone can last 2-3 weeks past its “sell-by” date in the refrigerator. However, aged Provolone varieties can even be stored for several months easily if kept in the right conditions.
In essence, while fresh mozzarella has a notably shorter shelf life due to its high moisture content, Provolone benefits from an extended shelf life thanks to its aging process and reduced moisture.
Additionally, mozzarella stored in brine (salty water solution) does have an extended shelf life compared to fresh mozzarella not stored in such a solution, where it helps to maintain moisture and texture and inhibits the growth of harmful microbes. But it’s still shorter than the shelf life of aged cheeses like Provolone.
Pairings and Usage in Cuisine
Provolone, known for its slightly sharp and robust flavor, especially when aged, finds its niche in sandwiches where it complements both cold and hot fillings without getting overshadowed. This cheese also enhances the flavors of grilled or roasted vegetables, melding with their charred profiles.
Additionally, when a dish like a casserole demands a bold cheese with a good melting presence, provolone steps up to the plate. However, its assertive profile might not be ideal for dishes that celebrate mild and creamy textures, such as the Caprese salad. Desserts, naturally, tend to lean away from its sharpness.
Mozzarella, on the other hand, has a better melting quality and subdued flavor. It reigns supreme on pizzas, turning into gooey, stretchy strands that have become synonymous with a perfect slice.
Mozzarella gives better browning, color uniformity, and blistering when compared to provolone and several other cheeses including cheddar and gruyere (1). Its creamy nature also elevates dishes like lasagna, pasta bakes, and stuffed vegetables.
Fresh mozzarella can make the pizza soggy! Use low-moisture mozzarella instead.
The fresh variant of mozzarella, delicate and soft, is the star of the Caprese salad, harmonizing with tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. Yet, when it comes to cold sandwiches bursting with potent flavors or antipasto platters teeming with bold ingredients, mozzarella might retreat into the background, its subtlety potentially overshadowed.
Can you Substitute Provolone for Mozzarella?
Substituting provolone for mozzarella, or vice versa, is possible and often done in culinary settings. Both cheeses hail from the pasta filata family, characterized by their pulled-curd production process, which bestows them with a similar texture and melting quality.
Provolone melts smoothly but can retain a bit more of its shape and might not have the same stretchiness as mozzarella. When a dish requires a creamy, melted consistency, such as in pizzas, casseroles, or sandwiches, both cheeses can be interchanged. However, the nuances in their flavor profiles will influence the overall taste.
Provolone Dolce is closer in flavor profile to mozzarella than Provolone Piccante.
Mozzarella, with its mild and creamy characteristics, will lend a more neutral and subdued flavor. In contrast, provolone, especially if it’s an aged variant, will introduce a slightly sharper and more pronounced taste. It’s essential to consider the desired flavor outcome when making the swap.
For baked dishes, sandwiches, or casseroles, provolone can generally replace mozzarella without much issue. The distinct taste of provolone might even be preferred in certain dishes for added depth of flavor. However, for dishes where the mild, creamy nature of mozzarella is central, such as in a Caprese salad, the substitution will change the dish’s character.
Nutrition can vary depending on the specific production process and brand of each cheese, but here’s a general comparison of Provolone and Mozzarella, based on a standard serving size of 1 oz or 28 grams:
|Fresh Mozzarella (Belgioioso)||Provolone (Dietz & Watson)|
|Carbohydrates||<1 g||0 g|
|Total Fat||5 g||5 g|
|Saturated Fat||3 g||4.8 g|
|Sodium||85 mg||98 mg|
|Protein||5 g||6 g|
|Cholesterol||20 mg||15 mg|
|Calcium||150 mg||190 mg|
|Vitamin A (IU, International Unit)||200 IU||250 IU|
Both cheeses have similar cholesterol content and neither has fiber, sugars, iron, or vitamin C. The ingredients for both cheeses are quite similar, with both being made from pasteurized milk and containing enzymes and salt. However, Mozzarella also contains vinegar.
It’s worth noting that not all Mozzarella cheeses will contain vinegar. The traditional method of making Mozzarella involves the use of bacterial cultures to acidify the milk. However, the inclusion of vinegar is more common in quick or commercial methods of production.
If you’re looking for a cheese with lower calories, fat, and sodium, mozzarella might be the healthier choice. Provolone tends to be richer in energy, protein, fat, calcium, sodium, and Vitamin A compared to Mozzarella.
Generally, mozzarella, particularly the mass-produced kind often used for pizza, tends to be priced a bit lower than provolone. This might be due to the widespread use and demand for mozzarella, especially in fast food and commercial pizza chains.
Provolone, on the other hand, while also popular, might be a tad pricier because it’s often aged longer, and the production process can be more involved. However, these price differences can vary depending on the brand, the region, and the quality of the cheese (for example, fresh mozzarella or a higher-end provolone might cost more).
For example, the authentic “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana” from Italy, made from buffalo milk, is typically more expensive due to its production costs and its Protected Designation of Origin status. On the other hand, Provolone with a similar designation, like “Provolone Valpadana,” may also carry a higher price. In the U.S., brands like Kraft, Sargento, and Galbani produce mass-market versions of these cheeses at a lower cost.