One of the foods we always try on our parrilla food tours in Buenos Aires is Provoleta. While technically Provoleta is a trademarked brand name, it has become a generic name for the dish. Basically it is barbecued provolone cheese, but the secret is in the preparation, requiring years of experience to do correctly.
Invented in 1940 by Italian immigrant Natalio Alba, the dish has become a traditional starter at asados and parrillas throughout Argentina. Alba was a cheese maker in Italy, and when he arrived in Argentina he wanted to develop a cheese dish for the Argentine custom of grilling. He selected provolone cheese since it is a semi-hard cheese, with a slight resistance to melting. The cheese is manufactured in a long tube shape approximately 8 inches in diameter, and than cut into 1/2 inch round slices for final preparation. The secret Alba developed, and that experienced parrilleros know today, is to let it sit at room temperature for a few hours before cooking so it dries on the outside and becomes crispy when grilled. Grill masters set the cheese directly on the parrilla and can tell exactly when to take it off, but if you’re still learning you can cook it in a provolotera, a ceramic or iron dish the shape of the disc of cheese, or sometimes you see the dishes with many small indents for individual servings. If prepared correctly the cheese is crispy on the outside and just beginning to melt on the inside. If cooked too long it becomes a cheesy mess! After about 3 minutes it is taken off the grill and topped with a little olive oil and oregano or red pepper.
While in Buenos Aires you must try Provoleta. Many Argentines will say you can judge a parrilla by their provoleta since it requires experience and a watchful eye to get just right.