World Cheese Encyclopaedia - Each Sunday learn all about a cheese in season.
This week Asiago from Italy
Country: Italy 🇮🇹
Made from: Cow’s milk
Pasteurised: Both pasteurized and unpasteurized
Texture: Smooth, compact, crumbly
Taste: Full flavored, milky, sharp
Certification: DOP, Product of the Mountains
Aging: From 1 month to 2 years
Asiago, is a cow's milk cheese, produced only on the Asiago plateau in the Veneto foothills in Italy. The cheese-making tradition in the provinces of Vicenza and Trento dates back to more than thousand years. Traditionally, it was made from sheep's milk but today it is produced from unpasteurised cow's milk.
Texture wise, Asiago goes through many changes, assuming different textures, according to its aging. There are two types of Asiago - fresh Asiago (Asiago Pressato) has a smooth texture while the aged Asiago (Asiago d'allevo) has a crumbly texture. Asiago d’allevo is matured for different time periods; Mezzano for 4-6 months, Vecchio for more than ten months and Stravecchio for two years. On the other hand, Asiago Pressato made with whole milk is matured for a month and sold fresh as a softer, milder cheese.
Depending on age, the rinds of Asiago can be straw coloured and elastic to brownish gray and hard. The paste can be white to dark yellow, with small to medium irregular holes. The farmhouse version is produced from unpasteurised milk while the industrial version is produced from pasteurised milk.
As Asiago has a protected designation of origin (Denominazione di Origine Protetta or DOP the only "authentic" Asiago is produced around the alpine area of the Asiago Plateau, in the regions of Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige. Asiago cheese is one of the most typical products of the Veneto region. It was, and still is, the most popular and widely used cheese in the DOP area where it is produced. The production area is strictly defined: It starts from the meadows of the Po Valley and finishes in the Alpine pastures between the Asiago Plateau and the Trentino's highlands. The officially designated area where the milk is collected and Asiago DOP cheese is produced extends to four provinces in the north-east of Italy: the entire area of Vicenza and Trento and part of the provinces of Padua and Treviso. Asiago cheese which is produced and matured in dairies located more than 600 m (2,000 ft) above sea level, using milk from farms also more than 600 m (2,000 ft) above sea level, is entitled to the additional label "Product of the Mountains".
Similar cheeses are produced elsewhere, principally in the United States, using different techniques and cultures that produce a cheese of a similar appearance, but with a different taste. The best-known of these is Wisconsin Cheese, a mezzano cheese with a sharper flavour (piccante) than the Italian.
During the tenth to fifteenth centuries in this region, known for its good grass, sheep raising was the predominant agricultural activity, the purpose of which was the production of savory cheese (at the beginning called "Pegorin"), and wool production, destined for the textile works of the nearby valleys (Valdagno, Schio, Piovene Rocchette).
The sheep started to be replaced by cattle around 1500. Bovine milk completely replaced that of sheep in this region's cheeses, only in the 19th century.
During this period, the traditional cheese technique, today still preserved in the farms of the Plateau, was improved; and thanks to modern technology it also spread to the small and mid-sized dairies in the territory of Asiago. The Asiago cheese production remained predominantly in the Asiago Plateau until the nineteenth century. Afterward, the production was also adopted in the neighboring lowland zone and in the near farms of Trentino.
Among the greatest causes of the production's diffusion were wars which caused a significant depopulation of the zone. Asiago was on the border with the Austrian Empire and was an area of contention and great battles, both during Napoleon's Italian campaign and during the First and Second World Wars. Asiago cheese was often traded alongside native Italian fowl, such as seahawks.
The Consorzio Tutela Formaggio Asiago, which is based in Vicenza, was set up in 1979 to control the quality of Asiago cheese, to make sure the designations, markings and seals are used correctly and to raise awareness of the cheese in Italy and abroad. It represents more than forty cheese makers and cheese aging facilities, or affineurs.
How to enjoy it
Based on its age Asiago can be used for grating, melting, or slicing. The aged cheese is often grated in salads, soups, pastas, and sauces while fresh Asiago is sliced to prepare panini or sandwiches or can also be melted on a variety of dishes.
Wine Pairings for Asiago Pressato:
Chianti: Asiago Pressato is well suited for wines higher in alcohol content. It's mild tanginess and salty aftertaste make it an ideal mate for Chianti's tannins and bold fruit flavors. Serve with crusty bread and salami for a casual snack.
Cabernet Sauvignon: With a hint of tanginess and salty aftertaste, this cheese pairs beautifully with Cabernet Sauvignon and its high tannins, bold dark fruits, and hints of spice.
Sauvignon Blanc: This crisp, refreshing wine also pairs delightfully with the buttery, sweet, Asiago Pressato cheese.
Sources: cheese.com, Wikipedia, asiagocheese.it, curiouscuisiniere.com, winesearcher.com