Fontina cheese is semi-soft cheese perfect for dips, mac and cheese or in a cheese sauce. As you may already know, cheese is something that pregnant women have to be wary of as not ALL cheese is safe to eat during pregnancy.
Fontina cheese is safe to eat during pregnancy if it is made from pasteurized milk, or if it is cooked until steaming hot. Authentic Fontina is usually unpasteurized, so this is best avoided during pregnancy, whereas American-made fontina is usually a safer choice.
This key word here is pasteurized which really determines how safe fontina cheese is for pregnant women. Here, you can find out how to safely find and consume fontina cheese, and I’ll also provide some ideas for some pregnancy-safe cheesy meals, to get your Fontina fix!
Is Fontina a Hard Cheese or a Soft Cheese?
Fontina cheese is not a hard or soft cheese, but is actually somewhere in the middle as a semi-soft cheese.
Soft cheeses such as cream cheese and cottage cheese are made by coagulating the milk proteins (which is also known as casein) with acid while hard cheeses are aged by coagulating the milk proteins with enzymes and culture and then exposed to bacteria and sometimes even mold (source: Shelf Life Advice).
The milk proteins in fontina are coagulated with enzymes. This is the same process a hard cheese goes through before it’s aged, but fontina does not have the hard texture cheddar does. This is how it ends up being “semi-soft”.
But what does this mean if you’re pregnant?
Is Fontina Pasteurized?
Traditionally, fontina cheese is made from unpasteurized milk but it largely depends on the brand and country of origin. Fontina is only safe during pregnancy if it’s made from pasteurized milk, so you’ll need to check this.
The good news is that in many US states, milk and milk products made from raw unpasteurized milk are not sold commercially, with the exception of cheeses that are aged for more than 60 days (source: CDC). However, some artisan brands or farm shops can sometimes be found to use raw milk (source: FDA).
Fontina is traditionally a European cheese and raw cheese is more prevalent across European countries, including the UK, but generally, unpasteurized cheese is clearly labeled as such. Raw cheeses are banned in Australia so Australian cheeses, including fontina made in Australia, are generally pasteurized.
Some kinds of fontina can be aged for an average of three months. However, this doesn’t mean that all imported cheeses are always made from pasteurized milk. When in doubt, read the label or stick to American-made fontina. Any fontina sold in US stores will be pasteurized (with the exception of farmers markets or direct from producers).
Fontina PDO is a semi-cooked cheese from the Italian alps which is made from raw unskimmed milk and then cooked to 97F/36C max before it’s aged. This kind of fontina is typically unpasteurized and should have a green Fontina PDO label on the packaging (source: Italian Made).
Therefore if you’re importing “real” fontina, it may not always be suitable for pregnant women to eat. Fontina PDO needs to be cooked to 165F/75C first to make it safe.
Real Fontina Val d’Aosta DOP is the original fontina cheese from the Italian Aosta valley in the alps. It will usually say on the packaging whether it’s pasteurized, but there are different varieties from other countries that may be labeled as Fontanella or fontal, too.
Most “non-authentic” Val d’Aosta and fontina (for example, those made in the USA) are made from pasteurized milk but be sure to check the ingredients and label to be on the safe side, rather than assuming. Keep in mind that both Danish and American style fontina is also usually made from pasteurized milk.
Is Fontina Safe for Pregnant Women?
So why is unpasteurized fontina unsafe during pregnancy? Unpasteurized milk is a concern for pregnant women due to the risk of contamination from listeria, e-coli, salmonella and other pathogens which pregnant women are more susceptible to due to their compromised immune systems during pregnancy (source: CDC).
Fontina that has been made from pasteurized milk is safe for pregnant women. Unpasteurized fontina or any fontina that you’re not sure has been pasteurized should be cooked until steaming hot before consumption. Cooking unpasteurized fontina will make it safe, as this kills pathogens.
Fontina-based sauce such as Fontina and Asiago is safe if the sauce has been heated to 165F before consumption or if the label indicates that the cheese has been pasteurized. If making baked fontina sauce at home make sure it is broiled in the oven to a very high temperature before serving.
Pizza is usually cooked between 450F and 500F which means that either pasteurized or unpasteurized fontina is safe on pizza as any bacteria will have been killed. Read our complete guide to pizza toppings for more info.
Safe Ways of Enjoying Fontina During Pregnancy
Due to its earthy mushroom-like taste, fontina adds a little extra flavor to macaroni and cheese. Mac and cheese is typically cooked at 350F for at least half an hour which makes it a safe pregnancy dish.
A grilled fontina cheese sandwich is a simple but safe pregnancy dish as long as it has been made with pasteurized fontina cheese, or if you get the cheese really hot.
If you’re unsure if your fontina cheese has been pasteurized then a pizza is a safe option as pizza is cooked at a high enough temperature to kill any bacteria or pathogens. Add some mushrooms, peppers and other vegetables for a nutritional boost!
Baked fontina with a baguette is a safe pregnancy dish because the cheese is melted at a high temperature, regardless of whether it has been pasteurized or not. The cheese is seasoned with rosemary, pepper, thyme and other herbs and melted into a cheese-like fondue to be enjoyed with a sliced baguette or crackers.
Overall, you can still get your cheesy Fontina fix – but avoid the unpasteurized versions, or heat the cheese up to make it safe for you and baby.