In the year 1000, sheep grazed on Italy’s Asiago plateau, tended by communities of mountain-dwelling subsistence farmers. Cheesemaking began as a preservation technique; these isolated farmers developed their unique style of cheese to help their sheep’s milk last longer.
In the 1500s, the plateau realized the introduction of cattle farming, and gradually production shifted to cow’s milk cheeses. Eventually, in the 1900s, modern techniques allowed these alpine cheesemakers to refine their process for broader markets, and Asiago cheese as we know it was born.
Below we've created a comprehensive guide to nutty, sour, sweet cheese we all know as Asiago.
Related Article: Gruyere Cheese - A Comprehensive Guide
What is Asiago Cheese?
Asiago is a semi-soft Italian cow’s milk cheese that can take on several different textures depending on the degree of aging. It ranges in color from pale yellow to amber, and its composition is spongy with numerous tiny holes or “eyes.”
A thin rind forms around Asiago cheese that thickens as the cheese ages and its flavor is comparable to an extremely buttery Parmesan.
Where Does Asiago Cheese Come From?
Originating in Northern Italy, Asiago cheese has protected DOP (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta” or Protected Designation of Origin) status.
Although versions of this style are found around the world, only those produced in the Veneto, Padua, and Trentino regions of Italy can be sold under the PDO designation.
Different Kinds of Asiago Cheese
1) Asiago Pressato, aged as little as one month, is pale yellow in color, easy to grate, spongy, and ideal for slicing or melting. The rind on this cheese is thin and perfectly edible.
2) Asiago d’Allevo may be cave-aged for as long as two years and has a rigid crumb that readily falls apart under pressure. It has a thick rind that is too tough to eat but makes a delicious addition to stocks and stews. The color of aged Asiago is much darker, and it is a harder, drier cheese that does not melt as easily as the younger versions.
There are several intermediate categories (asiago cheese aged between these two extremes) of Asiago named according to the length of aging.
These are less common and relevant outside of Italy. Asiago Mezzano ages for three to eight months and has a more vegetal flavor than Pressato. Veccio spends nine to 18 months in a cave and acquires slight bitter notes. Stravecchio is slightly younger than d’Allevo, aging for a minimum of 18 months, and has developed a spicy flavor and the crumbly texture characteristic of cave-aged Asiago.
How is Asiago Cheese Made?
Fresh Asiago (Pressato) takes advantage of full-cream cow’s milk inoculated with bacterial cultures, which must be heated, then coagulated with rennet and cooked briefly.
A cheesemaker then sprinkles the curds with salt and presses them in a mold for two days, followed by two days of soaking in a brine. The young Asiago finishes with a month of flavor development in a cave.
Aged Asiago (Asiago d’Allevo) uses partially skimmed milk and does not go through a pressing step; instead, the molded curds are turned repeatedly for several days (using gravity instead of weight to drain the whey) before undergoing brining.
This aged cheese may spend up to two years in a cave, where cheesemakers carefully turn it and shepherd it to completion.
Asiago Cheese Substitutes
If you seek a substitute for the spicy, sharp taste and dry texture of an aged Asiago, try a young Parmesan or a Pecorino Romano. Both of these are nutty, grateful, crumbly cheeses that fill a similar niche in a recipe or cheese plate.
Havarti or Swiss cheeses make a wonderful alternative to young Asiago, because they mimic its meltable texture and nutty flavor.
What does Asiago Cheese taste like?
Asiago reminds many people of Parmesan because of its strong nutty character. It is creamier than Parmesan and has quite a sharp flavor when aged.
Asiago Cheese Pairings
Asiago is incredibly versatile when it comes to pairings. Most recommendations include white wines (such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc) and pale beers (like a Pilsner or a Belgian Blonde).
Asiago works particularly well in savory applications; asparagus, tomatoes, and leafy greens accompany it well in recipes. On a cheese plate, experts suggest serving it with honey and dried stone fruits.
Best Asiago Cheese Brands
Asiago d’Allevo DOP Oro del Tempo is the variety of Asiago that comes most highly recommended by professionals. Other types of Asiago with DOP status are also greatly prized; you can recognize them not only by the letters DOP but also by the tiny pinpricks on their rind.
Where to Buy Asiago Cheese
A popular and versatile cheese, Asiago is widely available everywhere, from supermarkets to luxury cheesemongers. The cheese counter at your local Whole Foods (or similar shop) is likely to carry a selection of Asiago styles.
Online dealers offer Asiago of different ages. These electronic sources range from broad-spectrum retailers like Walmart and Target to those dealing specifically with cheese, such as www.igourmet.com.
How Long Does Asiago Cheese Last?
Fresh Asiago will last two weeks in the fridge, while aged Asiago easily survives up to six weeks due to its lower moisture level. Either variety can persist in the freezer for up to a year--just make sure it is well-labeled!
Mold formation is not generally considered problematic on Asiago cheese. If a spot of mold forms on an otherwise edible cheese, trim around and below the mold, taking care not to touch it with the knife. Discard the moldy pieces and repackage the remaining cheese.
How to Make Asiago Cheese
Making Asiago cheese at home requires an intermediate skill level and some dedicated cheese-making equipment, including an aging chamber.
New England Cheesemaking Supply has a recipe and instructions here for making a young Asiago Pressato style cheese; you may also purchase the necessary supplies and bacterial cultures through this website.
WE LOVE CHEESE, and we love talking about it. Asiago is a long- prized cheese for its ability to add both depth and flavor to cuisines around the world.
We hope this article answered your questions. If you find anything missing, please reach out to us.