Asiago

This Italian Cheese Can have a Mild or Pungent Flavor

Asiago cheese
Asiago cheese. Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

Asiago (pronounced "a-zhee-AH-go") is a type of Italian cheese made from whole cow's milk. Depending on how long it is aged, Asiago cheese can have different flavors and textures. Fresh Asiago has a smooth texture, mild flavor, and white color. When aged at least six months, the cheese has a crumbly texture, pungent flavor and light yellow color.

How to Use Asiago

Use fresh Asiago cheese for making sandwiches or serve it with crackers.

When aged, Asiago is usually grated and can be used for making salads, soups, pastas, and sauces. Aged Asiago cheese resembles Parmesan cheese in flavor. You can slice fresh Asiago and use it on panini or other sandwiches; you can also melt it on a variety of dishes and even cantaloupe.

History of Asiago

Asiago has a long, rich history. According to Asiago, an industry website, the cheese takes its name from the Asiago Plateau, a region in Northeastern Italy where it has been made since the year 1000. "Initially sheep’s milk was used, but from the 1500s, with the gradual increase of cattle farming on the plateau, cow’s milk became the raw material used," the website notes.

Asiago even became a valuable trading commodity during Napoleon's Italian campaign and during the first and second world wars. Italian traders often received valuable browned corn husks or corncobs in return for the sought-after cheese, according to Wikipedia.

Types of Asiago

Cheese.com notes that there are two types of Asiago cheese; the type you will want depends on the kind of flavor you are seeking as well as how you plan to use the cheese:

  • Fresh Asiago -- called "Asiago Pressato" -- has a smooth texture. "Asiago Pressato made with whole milk is matured for a month and sold fresh as a softer, milder cheese," Cheese.com notes.
  • Aged Asiago -- known as "Asiago d'allevo" -- has a crumbly texture. Asiago d’allevo is matured for different amounts of time, depending on the variety: Mezzano is aged for four to six months, Vecchio is aged for more than 19 months and Stravecchio for a full two years.

Protected Designation of Origin

According to Associazione Formaggi Italiani DOP, a trade organization composed of cheese makers and seasoners, only Asiago produced in the Asiago region and in accordance with specific rules regarding the content and production of the cheese, can carry the name. This is called Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) -- or in Italian, "Denominazione di Origine Protetta" (POD).

Laws regarding the POD designation have become more lenient in recent years, especially outside of the confines of the European Union, where POD is a legal designation. However, if you see "POD" stamped on the Asiago you are considering buying, you'll know the cheese was, indeed, produced in the Northeastern region of Italy according to the trade group's requirements.