WHAT IS ASIAGO?
These 20 pound wheels of cheese hail from the Asiago plateau in northern Venice (Veneto). They come in two types, d’Allevo and pressato. Both have been awarded D.O.P. status. Long ago these cheeses were made from sheep’s milk but that stopped sometime around the Renaissance. Today d’Allevo is the more artisanal of the two cheeses. It is made from alpine cow’s milk that sits for about half a day. The cream floating on top is partially skimmed off and the cheese is sold fresco (fresh or aged about 3 months). Older versions like mezzano (aged for about 5 months) and an older 9 month Vecchio are also made. While the formaggio’s rind is a yellow ashy color, the interior has a rich flavor that grows more crumbly with age.
WHERE IS ASIAGO MADE?
The traditional version of this formaggio is made on the Asiago plateau. This is located in the alpine foothills of Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige. Industrially this cheese is made all over the place.
THE SOLDIER’S CHEESE OF CHOICE
Asiago Pressato was invented during the Battle of Asiago in World War I. Yes, some might say the battle was named after the region. But I prefer to think that it was named after the cheese. Anyway, the Austro-Hungarian empire assaulted the plateau for three years. This offensive resulted in several hundred thousand Italian soldiers being stationed on the Asiago plain. The demand to feed all of these soldiers was overwhelming. So a faster, easier version was developed, the Pressato. Today it is made in larger facilities farther away closer to the Po River. This is the Asiago that most stores in the U.S.A. carry. It is a more rubbery, industrial product and cheaper in both price and quality. Compared to Parmesan Reggiano both are nutty. Asiago though tends to develop a sharper flavor when aged (vecchio).
WHAT CAN I PAIR WITH ASIAGO?
Wines that are bold with a lot of character will do like Cabernet Sauvignon. Also try Chianti, Zinfandels or Sauvignon Blancs. Beer-wise go the opposite direction, not too strong (like a Guinness) but not too weak and watery either. For a tour of Italian cheese, look to the classics. try great cheeses like Gorgonzola Dolce and a 24 month aged Parmesan Reggiano. If you want a cheese flight that is still alpine but more international, try a French Comte and a Swiss cave aged Emmenthaler.