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Variety: Hard, pasteurised
Colour: Pale straw to golden hay
Size: 11-15kg wheels
Country of origin: Italy
Asiago is an expression of its landscape – a wild, lush region that was largely chosen by settlers after the Roman Age for its ‘hidden’ ‘away from it all’ location. Many settlers crossed the border from Germany, which led to the creation of a new native language, Cimbro.
Eponymously named for the decoratively colourful village in northern Italy, close to the foothills of the Alps, Asiago DOP is produced to exacting standards, approved and presided over by the Veneto-Trentino Consortium for the Protection of Asiago Cheese.
Criteria dictates these cheeses may only be made with milk from cows (five varieties, from Grigio Alpina to Burlina) which graze in the hilly Vicenza region, and that Asiago DOP can only be produced within four provinces in north-eastern Italy.
Any Asiago DOP produced and matured at dairies within these boundaries and located more than 2,000ft above sea level, will have the additional label ‘Product of the Mountains’.
Asiago Pressato is a whole milk cheese, heated twice, salted, wrapped, pressed into rounds and dried in a frescura. It’s cured in brine and typically rested for 20 to 40 days.
Asiago D’Allevo, on the other hand, is produced with whole and skimmed milk that’s heated three times, with a longer salting, turning and brining process. It is either finished by dry salting or soaking in brine. Asiago D’Allevo must be matured for at least 60 days and is usually aged from four to 15 months.
Tasting: Asiago DOP is available in many states of maturity. Chosen young, it is fresh, light and citrussy, a 30-day matured Product of the Mountain variety will give over grassy, almost floral notes, and there are cheeses taken to 10 to 15 months, becoming intensely savoury with a touch of spice.
Drinks Pairing: Asiago Pressato is a good match for pale Belgian beers and German weiss beer. As you work your way up the maturity levels, pairs could include Riesling, Pinot Gris, Soave, and lighter red wines. Elvira Dmitrieva from Independent Wine, which specialises in bottles from small, family-owned farms in Italy, suggests a Sauvignon Blanc. “Italy offers several distinct styles of Sauvignon wine. This is because it boasts a great diversity of soils and climates, from Mediterranean to Alpine. For Asiago we recommend a Sauvignon from Marche, grown on pebbly soils in a warmer climate, it’s full of tropical flavours with notes of guava, lime, gooseberry and lemongrass with a hint of white flowers.”
A retail perspective: Olivia Contini is part of the family that owns Edinburgh’s Italian speciality food shop Valvona & Crolla, and is responsible for the store’s cheese buying. She says, “Asiago is such a popular cheese, especially amongst our Italian customers. It’s one of the ones that if we stopped stocking it, there would be riots. Perhaps not to the degree of Parmigiano or Gorgonzola Dolce, but it’s up there as one of the four standard cheeses we have to sell.
“It’s quite a simple cheese really, but lovely. We sell Asiago Pressato. It’s semi-hard with little holes in, and a fairly delicate taste. I like that it’s not an overpoweringly smelly cheese. I’d liken it to having the qualities of a French Raclette because it has lovely melting properties.
“The majority of our customers just eat it as it is. But you can cook with it. In our café-bar we have a lovely dish of chicken wrapped in pancetta and we often put a strip of Asiago in the middle as it melts so nicely.”
Cooking tips: Encourage customers to use Asiago in dishes from the Veneto region – enjoying mature versions with radicchio rosso di treviso, or melted over risotto. It can also be incorporated into chichetti snacks. Italian chef Giampiero Romani tells Speciality Food, “In Italy Asiago is a table cheese, with a sweet and delicate aroma. Its flavour is characterised by notes of walnut and a lemon aftertaste. The texture of ‘really old’ Asiago is very hard, grainy, intense and penetrating – this is excellent with polenta, mushrooms and red wines. It is possible to use Asiago for quiches, salads, polenta and pasta.”