Asiago may not be as famous as Italy’s other grand varieties, but it’s a cheese well worth knowing – it just may surprise you! Smooth to crumbly, or sweet to savoury, Asiago can assume many different flavours and textures according to age.
Versions of Asiago are made all over the world, but the “official” Asiago D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) cheese is only produced in specific origin areas of Italy. By European law, these areas are the namesake town of Asiago, the province of Vicenza, and the province of Trento.
Originally made with ewe’s milk, today’s Asiago is made exclusively with high-quality, unpasteurised cow’s milk from the Alpine meadows. These meadows bloom with many species of grass, as well as medicinal plants and flowers, all of which contribute to a distinctly special Asiago cheese.
Asiago D.O.P. is produced in two distinct types. One is sweet and delicate; the other rich and savoury. The main differences in flavour and texture are due to the type of milk used in production, as well as the length of the aging period.
Fresh Asiago (Asiago pressato): Delicate and sweet, fresh Asiago is produced with whole milk and only aged for 20 days. This soft cheese has an aroma reminiscent of yogurt or farm fresh butter. It is pale straw yellow in colour and mildly sweet and acidic in flavour. Fresh Asiago is not at all salty or bitter.
Ripened Asiago (Asiago d’allevo): This mature variety of Asiago is made with skimmed milk. The stronger taste varies according to length of the maturing period. Young to middle-aged Asiagos are typically aged three to 12 months. Asiago stravecchio is aged between 18 months and two years.
Harder in texture, ripened Asiago offers a savoury flavour that’s more piquant than sweet. Its rich aromas are reminiscent of butter, yeast, dried fruits, or some say, boiled chestnuts. The colour of ripened Asiago ranges from darker shades of straw yellow to almost amber. The flavour, colour, and aroma become more intense and pungent with more maturity.
Authentic Asiago will bear the official origin markings, including the word “Asiago,” the D.O.P. logo, and a manufacturer’s code impressed onto the side of each cheese form. These markings prove the cheese was made within the controlled D.O.P. zones.
When buying Asiago, keep in mind that young Asiago should be lighter in colour than the aged variety. When sliced open, a fresh wedge of Asiago should display an abundance of tiny holes. If there are no holes, it’s not a top quality cheese. Also pass on any wedges that appear brown in colour.
All wedges and slices of Asiago should be neatly cut, wrapped in polythene, and refrigerated. Properly stored, ripened Asiago will keep for up to one month. Fresh Asiago won’t keep as long as the mature variety. Be sure to enjoy it within eight to 10 days of purchase.
Fresh or ripe, Asiago cheese is a popular ingredient in the Italian kitchen. In fact, Asiago is wonderfully interchangeable with Parmesan, Romano, or aged Gouda in most recipes.
Young, sweet Asiago can be cut into cubes for snacking and salads, or cooked into omelettes and layered pasta dishes. Shred Asiago for a fantastic pizza topping, or cut it into slices for sandwiches and grilled panini.
Firm and slightly spicy, aged Asiago is perfect for grating over pasta, rice, soup, salads, and vegetables. At the table, serve Asiago with an assortment of hearty breads, salamis, nuts, and fresh fruits like figs, apples, grapes, and pears.
Asiago with Wine
As a general rule of thumb, the older the Asiago, the stronger your wine. Pair fresh Asiago with similarly young, soft, and delicate flavours. Try white, light rosé, or dry sparkling wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, or a Franciacorta Brut Spumante.
Matured Asiago requires a more robust, full-bodied red wine for sipping and savouring. Try a Rioja, Cabernet, Bardolino, or Charbono.
Both types of Asiago also pair nicely with non-alcoholic beverages such as cranberry and sparkling grape juice.