Asiago is a type of Italian cow's milk cheese that ranges in texture from soft to hard, depending on the type. The cheese is commonly used in kitchens all over Italy, and has spread to other parts of the world as well, where it has become popular in its hard form grated over pasta, pizza, and other similar dishes. Asiago has a characteristic tangy flavor and scent that many consumers greatly appreciate, and can be found in most markets.
Certain types of Asiago are governed by a protected designation of origin, meaning that, if the cheese is labeled in this way, the cheese has been produced to a set of exacting standards. In addition, independent monitors keep track of foods that have protected destinations of origin, ensuring that the food is of a consistent quality and that consumers are not being sold a mislabeled product. In addition to promoting the cheese industry, it also ensures that vital parts of Europe's culinary heritage are not lost.
This cheese actually comes in two forms, a young form called Asiago Pressato, and an aged one called Asiago d'Allevo. Both are made in similar ways, although the manufacturing process is slightly different. The young version, also called fresh Asiago, appears as the filling for raviolis, on top of pizzas, or to dress up savory pies. The cheese is soft, crumbly, and moist, like most fresh or farmer's cheeses. Asiago d'Allevo, on the other hand, is a hard cheese with a rind, with a mellow young version and a more astringent aged type.
This cheese is among the family of “mountain cheeses” such as Emmentaler and Gruyere, and can be made with either pasteurized or raw milk. The flavor will change depending on what type of milk is used, with many consumers favoring raw milk Asiago because it has a more complex flavor.
To make Asiago Pressato, the cheese maker uses fresh whole milk, which is heated and combined with rennet to form curds. These curds are loosely pressed into cheesecloth and allowed to age for 40 days before being deemed mature. Asiago d'Allevo uses partially skimmed milk, and is aged for much longer. For a young d'Allevo, the cheese is allowed to age for approximately three months. Older versions may age for up to one year.
Aged cheese has small holes and a slightly granular texture. The young cheese is slightly sweet with a nutty flavor that goes well with fruit and many wines. Older Asiago is much more assertive, acidic, and brisk. Grated over pasta, it is a fresh and spunky alternative to Parmesan.