Asiago cheese, the dairy specialty from Italy


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Asiago cheese, the delicious specialty from Veneto

STORIES, INFORMATION AND INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT ASIAGO, ONE OF THE MOST TYPICAL ITALIAN CHEESES. LET’S FIND ITS MOST TRADITIONAL PRODUCERS TO ENJOY ITS ORIGINAL FLAVOR.

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siago, one of the most appreciated Italian cheeses, takes its name from the famous plateau located in the north-eastern part of the peninsula. Let’s find out the history of this dairy specialty, how it’s produced and its different types. Let’s try to understand what makes it worthy of the PDO label: the Protected Designation of Origin.


Asiago cheese, the delicious specialty from Veneto (img-01)

The history of Asiago cheese.

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he first records of the production of cheese on the Asiago plateau date back to around the year 1000 (*1): such an ancient tradition should not surprise, given the great quality of the pastures that have always characterized this area.
Map of the Province of Vicenza, 17th Century (img-02) At the time there was only sheep farming (*2): thanks to the delicious milk of these animals the ‘pegorin’ (*3) was born, considered by many the ancestor of ‘Asiago’. It goes without saying that these two kinds of cheese are actually very different from each other: for example, Asiago is made with cow milk. After all, it was necessary to wait until the 16th century for the introduction of cattle breeding (*4) 1917, Asiago, Kaiser Karl visiting his troops (img-03) and until the 17th century for the invention of the cheese-making technique largely used still today (*5). From the Mid-Nineteenth Century, there was a gradual depopulation of the plateau, this phenomenon further increased in the Early Twentieth Century due to the beginning of the First World War and the resulting transformation of the grazing lands into battlefields. All this led to the extension of the production area of Asiago cheese, which started to include the area on the slopes of the plateau, a portion of the surrounding plains and several ‘malghe’ (mountain huts) on the hills of Trentino Region.
In 1955 the Asiago received its first important recognition: the Typical Denomination (‘Denominazione Tipica’). In 1978 the EU assigned it the Protected Designation of Origin, also known as “PDO” (*6). The following year the Consortium for the Protection of Asiago Cheese (Consorzio per la Tutela del Formaggio Asiago) was born.

Notes:
*1: It could have started much earlier.
*2: Sheep breeding was of fundamental importance for the local economy: from these animals, in addition to milk, it was possible to get wool.
*3: The name ‘Pegorin’ derives from ‘pecora’: the Italian for ‘sheep’.
*4: During the 16th Century, cattle breeding almost completely replaced sheep breeding.
*5: The first type of Asiago to be produced was the ‘Asiago d’allevo’, the seasoned one. ‘Pressed Asiago’ (‘Asiago pressato’), the ‘fresh’ one, started to be produced at the beginning of the 20th century.
*6: In Italian acronym is ‘DOP’ (Denominadione di Origine Protetta).


Asiago City Hall, facade (img-04)

The production areas of Asiago PDO cheese.

Asiago PDO cheese production areas.

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he PDO procedural guideline for Asiago defines the zones where this cheese must be produced (*1). In addition to the plateau, its place of origin, these zones include:
The province of Trento (the entire territory);
The province of Vicenza (the entire territory).
The province of Padua (only some municipalities, near the piedmont areas).
The province of Treviso (only some municipalities, near the piedmont areas).

Note:
*1: Including the milk.

The types of Asiago cheese.

There are two main types of Asiago cheese:

‘Fresh’ Asiago, also known as ‘pressed Asiago’ (‘Asiago pressato’):
‘Fresh’ Asiago (img-01) Production: only full-fat milk is used. This type of cheese needs at least 20 days of seasoning;
Color: very pale white / straw yellow;
Structure: soft and elastic;
Holes: marked and irregular;
Taste: sweet and delicate, vaguely aromatic, it may remind freshly milked milk;
Aromas: butter / yoghurt;
It’s the type that, since the beginning of the 20th century, has given great international success to this cheese.

‘Seasoned’ Asiago, also known as ‘Asiago d’Allevo’:
‘Seasoned’ Asiago (img-01) Production: only semi-skimmed milk is used. This type of cheese needs at least 3/4 months of maturation. Aging can far exceed 15 months.
Color: straw yellow;
Structure: progressively more compact with seasoning. Asiago Stravecchio is friable;
Holes: sparse. Small / medium size;
Taste: intense. With aging it becomes stronger and slightly spicy;
Aromas: hints of dried fruit;
It’s the most ‘ancient’ type, dating back to the Middle Ages. Fresh Asiago was born later, thanks to the evolution of the dairy technique.

‘Seasoned’ Asiago, in relation to aging, is divided in three further types:
Asiago Mezzano (from 4 to 6 months);
Asiago Vecchio (over 10 months);
Asiago Stravecchio (minimum 15 months);


Asiago cheese (img-01)

The Asiago landscapes.

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s often happens when dealing with high quality food and wine products, the territories in which these specialties are born offer to the visitor also unforgettable views. Asiago and its cheese are no exception: here follow some images that, more than a thousand words, can give an idea of the beauty of the plateau.





How Asiago cheese is made.

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he methods to produce the Asiago cheese slightly change according to the type.
Here follows a list of the various steps necessary for each of these two methodologies:

‘Fresh’ Asiago (also known as ‘pressed’ Asiago).
As already mentioned in a previous paragraph, fresh Asiago is produced using whole milk.


The milk is heated.

The milk is heated, bringing it to a temperature of 35°C.


Bovine rennet is added.

Bovine rennet is added to the heated milk (*1). The ‘curd’ takes form (*2).


The curd is broken.

The curd is broken into fragments the size of a walnut (*3).


The curd is cooked in two phases.

The curd is cooked in two phases, the first at 40°C, the second at about 44°C.


The ‘serum’ is drained.

The ‘serum’, the liquid in which the curd is immersed, is drained.


The curd is salted, cut and mixed.

The curd is salted, cut and mixed by hand.


The pressing.

The paste thus obtained is poured into molds, where it is pressed (*4) for a few hours.


The marking.

The paste is placed in a ‘marking mold’ (*5) which stamps the mark on its side (*7).


The seasoning.

The cheese wheels are seasoned for about 20/40 days.





‘Seasoned’ Asiago (also known as ‘Asiago d’Allevo’).
Seasoned Asiago is produced using the milk obtained from two milkings, one of which is skimmed.


The milk is heated.

The milk is heated, bringing it to a temperature of 35°C.


Bovine rennet is added.

Bovine rennet is added to the heated milk (*1). The ‘curd’ takes form (*2).


The curd is broken.

The curd is broken into fragments the size of a grain of rice using the ‘spino’ (*6).


The curd is cooked in two phases.

The curd is cooked in two phases, the first at 40°C, the second at 47°C.


The ‘serum’ is drained, the paste is poured in the mould.

The ‘serum’ is drained. The resulting paste is poured in a special mold (*5).


The marking.

The paste is placed in a ‘marking mold’ (*5) which stamps the mark on its side (*7).


The cheese is salted in brine.

The cheese is immersed for a few days in brine: this way it’s salted.


The seasoning.

The cheese wheels begin an aging process that can last many months.





Notes:
*1: Animal ‘rennet’ (there are other types) is a digestive enzyme extracted from the stomach of calves, goats or very young pigs.
*2: ‘Curd’ is obtained by adding rennet to warm milk: this brings to the coagulation of the casein present in the milk itself and the formation of a gelatinous mass.
*3: This size, however small, is still much greater than that required for the production of ‘fresh’ Asiago.
*4: Hence the name ‘pressed’ (pressato), often used for fresh Asiago.
*5: These special molds are called ‘fascere’: they are foldable bands used since ancient times in Asiago to give to the local cheese the cylindrical shape. In the past they were made of wood, nowadays they are usually made of plastic.
*6: Operation carried out thanks to a particular instrument known as ‘lira’ or ‘spino’.
*7: The ‘scanso’ is the side of the cheese wheel.

Wine and Asiago cheese.

Wine and Asiago cheese.

The right wine to pair with a portion of Asiago depends very much on its type:
‘Fresh Asiago’ ( or ‘pressed Asiago’): a good choice could be a white wine, soft and light, with a fair acidity. For example a ‘Soave’ or a ‘Vernaccia di San Gimignano’.
‘Seasoned Asiago’ ( or ‘Asiago d’allevo’): the more seasoned is the cheese, the more structured should be the wine. For example, a good choice to accompany a medium-aged Asiago could be a ‘Cabernet dei Colli Berici’ or a ‘Bardolino’.

‘Malghe’ and Asiago cheese.

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he Italian word ‘malga’ is generally used to indicate not only the alpine pastures, but also the rustic buildings, made of wood and/or brick, located in the mountains: these are suitable to host cattle, shepherds and sometimes activities such as cheese production.
The ‘malghe’ of the Asiago Plateau are among the most typical: they’are rightly considered the ‘temples’ of the local dairy tradition.



It’s therefore not surprising that, still today, the over one hundred Antopianese ‘malghe’ are, together with the factories, fundamental members of the ‘Consortium for the Protection of Asiago Cheese’ (‘Consorzio di Tutela del Formaggio Asiago’).


Asiago PDO cheese (img-01)

Bertolt Brecht about cheese (img-05)

The Asiago plateau.

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he Asiago plateau is a vast plain located in the Vicentine Pre-Alps at an average altitude of 1300 meters. Originally inhabited by the ‘Cimbri’ people, it’s also known as the ‘Plateau of the Seven Municipalities’ because, since ancient times, its territory was divided into seven districts (Conco, Enego, Foza, Gallio, Lusiana, Roana e Rotzo), confederated in a small independent nation, the ‘League of Seven Sister Lands’ (la ‘Lega delle Sette Terre Sorelle’).
In this regard, it’s interesting to recall the words of the famous Italian writer Mario Rigoni Stern:

“In the territory of the Seven Municipalities there are no noble’s castles, no lord’s villas nor bishop’s cathedrals, for the simple fact that the land belongs to the people and its fruits, as dictated by the ancient customs, belong to everyone”.

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The shape of Asiago cheese.

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siago cheese is sold in wheels with a diameter of about 30/35 centimeters and 10 centimeters high; their weight is, more or less, 10 kilos. The name ‘Asiago’ and the PDO mark (Protected Designation of Origin) are branded on the side, also known as ‘scalzo’. Each wheel shows a number corresponding to its factory and a special code that makes it possible to trace information such as, for example, the date of production.

The production of Asiago cheese.

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ere follows a video (in Italian language) showing, step by step, the production of Asiago cheese.

Asiago ‘Product of the Mountain’.

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hen Asiago cheese is produced at an altitude of at least 600 meters gets the title ‘Product of the Mountain’: this characteristic is highlighted by a specific symbol marked on the side of the wheels.

Asiago Stravecchio at the end of a meal.

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ne of the best ways to enjoy a slice of Asiago Stravecchio is to dip it in honey or jam. Another good way is to accompany it with some ‘passito’ wine: this combination gives to the palate unique sensations.

Asiago PDO cheese: nutritional values.

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ere follows a list of the main nutritional values of Asiago:
Good content of proteins, higher than that present in the same quantity of meat. Their presence increases with cheese aging;
Abundant content of sodium: its presence increases with cheese aging;
Abundant content of lipids: their presence decreases slightly with cheese aging;
Lastly, it contains calcium, phosphorus and the vitamins A, B, B2 (riboflavin).

The PDO mark for the Asiago cheese.

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une 1996: Asiago cheese was awarded the PDO mark (Protected Designation of Origin). This mark, assigned by the European Union, certifies and guarantees the quality of an agri-food product, attesting its compliance with a specific guideline (‘disciplinare’). The guideline contains a series of rules concerning, for example, the place of origin, the ingredients and the production phases: factors contributing to making a specialty unique and therefore worthy to be protected.

The Consortium for the Protection of Asiago Cheese.

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he Consortium for the Protection of Asiago Cheese was established in 1979. The main objectives of this association of producers and seasoners are:
The full compliance with the production guideline (‘disciplinare’).
The promotion of Asiago cheese both nationally and internationally, highlighting the qualities that make this dairy specialty unique.
The protection from any attempt at imitation.

The Consortium for the Protection of Asiago Cheese: contacts.

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his article was born also thanks to the precious collaboration of the Consortium for the Protection of Asiago Cheese. Here follow some useful contacts:

The Consortium for the Protection of Asiago Cheese (img-01)

The Consortium for the Protection of Asiago Cheese
Official site: www.asiagocheese.it
Mail: [email protected]
Tel.: +39 0444 321758




COPYRIGHT INFORMATION


Click here.

The images bearing the logo ‘webfoodculture’ are copyrighted.

(img-01) – Images published courtesy of the Consortium for the Protection of Asiago Cheese.

The following images are public domain:

img-02 (*) – Map of the Vicenza territory, XVII Century, G.Dall’Acqua (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-03 (*) – 1917, Asiago, Kaiser Karl visiting his troops, Austrian National Library (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-04 (**) – Asiago City Hall, facade, image belonging to Zen41 (Wikipedia Link)

The following image is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany:

img-05 (**) – Bertolt Brecht, 1954, image belonging to the German Federal Archive (Wikipedia Link)

(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.