Under the name of caciocavallo or cosacavaddu as it is called in some areas of Sicily there are different cheeses produced in the South of Italy and in Sicily. These cheeses have one thing in common: they are all produced by stretching an acid curd. Normally caciocavallo is a side product of another cheese, some of the curd is left overnight and when it is acid it is stretched with the help of a special stick in hot water at a temperature of about 92°. In origin this was a way to save the curd when, with high temperatures, it turned bad. Nowadays those cheeses are really appreciated and known through all Italy and beyond. To the Southern Italian stretch curd cheese family belong also the provolone and the mozzarella: a very fresh caciocavallo is not dissimilar from a mozzarella and a well matured provolone sometimes is just a large version of a caciocavallo.
In Sicily caciocavallo is very different according to the area where it is produced. Normally made from cow milk, in some area is made with sheep milk or a blend of cow, sheep and some goat milk.
The Ragusano PDO and the Palermitano PDO (also known as Godrano PDO) are the two varieties produced in the province of Ragusa and Palermo that are labelled with the EU protected designation of origin. Those two cheeses are normally made in the shape of large parallelepipeds and are very different in taste and texture from the ones made in the mountain areas of Nebrodi and Madonie. In these two areas caciocavallo is normally called provola, shaped like a big pear (sometimes a cheese can reach a weight of 14 kilos) and normally made by blending cow, sheep and sometimes goat milk.
In the dry regions of Trapani and Belice river, where cows cannot graze and only sheep are bred, the caciocavallo is made just from sheep milk and it is known as vastedda del Belice PDO.
The word caciocavallo has always generated confusion and curiosity: literally translated it means something like cheese sitting on horseback and many says this name comes from the tradition of tying together in pairs two cheeses to let them age hanging from a long elevated pole. But if it is certain that the word cacio comes from the Latin caseus, it is definitely not known why it is associated with the word cavallo, horse. Very often words when used through the centuries lose completely their meaning, people do not recognise them and therefore associate them to another word that has a similar sound and a familiar meaning. The word is a mystery but the cheese is delicious: each caciocavallo has is own taste, texture, colour and smell and it is a very versatile cheese that can be eaten fresh as a mozzarella or in different aging, up to a very strong one that can be used to dress pastas, aubergines in the oven, pizzas or mixed with meat to make tasty sausages or meat rolls.