Italian Asiago is the original, but products from other areas are becoming a popular alternative to this aged parmesan-like cheese.
Traditional Asiago is a semi-hard cheese that is produced exclusively in a region within the Italian Alps. Today, other countries produce Asiago, including Canada and the United States. At its varying stages of ripeness, it is similar to the more expensive parmesan.
Originally a sheep’s milk product, Asiago is now made exclusively from cow’s milk.
The matured cheese is called Asiago d’allevo and is made from skimmed milk. Hard, aged cheeses are best for grating, while less mature versions can be sliced or cubed and served with appetizers or melted as a pizza topping.
A fresh cheese, which is aged only a few months and then compressed is called Asiago pressato. It is a good choice for melting or cutting into chunks and adding to salads. Pressato is made from whole milk and tastes sweeter. American made variations of pressato are available, but this cheese is not imported from Italy.
Choose Asiago based on cooking and serving needs. At a young age, it is called “dolce," medium aged is “medio,” and hard-aged is “piccante.” At a few months, the cheese has a mild spicy taste, which grows stronger with time.
This cheese is also grouped by taste: young (fresco), medium ripened (mezzano/mezzanello), old (vecchio), and very old (stravecchio).
Genuine Asiago will be marked D.O.C. (Controlled Designation of Origin) and D.O.P./D.P.O. (Protected Designation of Origin). This certifies that the process of raising and feeding cows for milk and then making the cheese has been strictly regulated within exclusive areas of Italy.
Most Asiago d’allevo is sold in wedges with a waxy reddish-brown rind. An entire wheel will weigh up to thirty-one pounds. Always make sure a portion of rind is attached. It not only protects the cheese but also is imprinted with the verifiable origin.
Aged cheeses will keep for several months in the refrigerator’s vegetable drawer. Reuse the original wrapper if possible or wrap in plastic (as an alternative, perforate aluminum foil). You can also cover with a wet cloth (remoisten daily). Specialty cheeses need to breath, but should not be allowed to dry out.
Young cheeses will generally remain fresh for about a month in the refrigerator.
• Asiago can accompany fruits and nuts, and sliced meats such as salami.
• Grate it over salads, or rice and pasta dishes and add it to soups and special sauces.
• Slice thinly and melt over toasted baguettes or French breads.
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