Made from raw cow's milk, Asiago is named for the Asiago plateau in northern Italy's Veneto mountains. According to its DOP designation, which protects the use of its name, Asiago can only be produced within officially recognized areas near the town of Asiago in the Provinces of Vicenza and Trento.
Asiago is available in two types: Asiago Pressato (made with milk from the low lying areas, it's semi-soft, with large holes) and Asiago d'Allevo. Asiago d'Allevo is a semi-hard cheese with a firm texture and a straw-colored paste.
Asiago d'Allevo is produced using raw milk from the Pezzata Nera and Bruno Alpina cows that graze in the higher mountain pastures. Cheeses are made in either small mountain dairies or in the larger facilities where the cheeses are collectively matured. In either case, the cooperative dairies that provide the milk ensure the quality of milk suited for cheese production. It is generally acknowledged that the best milk for cheesemaking comes from cows that graze on higher Alpine pastures during the summer months, when there is a large variety of grasses, herbs, and flowers.
To make Asiago d'Allevo, the raw milk is allowed to rest for 6-12 hours, and the cream that rises to the top is skimmed off. The milk is heated and rennet is added, and then coagulation takes place at 95°F, lasting between 25-30 minutes. The curd is cut and reheated twice (first to a temperature of 104°F and then 116°F) in order to expel more whey. The curds are scooped into the molds for pressing, during which time they receive their DOP stamp on the rind. After unmolding, wheels are either brined or dry salted before being moved to the maturing rooms for aging.
Asiago d'Allevo is produced in large, flat wheels weighing approximately 15 lbs. and is sold at varying ages.
The age of the cheese denotes its flavor profile. In younger "Mezzano"cheeses, aged for a minimum of three months, flavors are fresh, mild, and lactic. The texture is supple, semisoft, and even throughout, with a pale straw-colored interior dotted with occasional small holes.
Cheeses matured for at least nine months are known as "Vecchio" or "Stravecchio" and have a much firmer, drier texture that makes them well-suited for grating. With age, flavors become more intense and piquant.
An excellent table cheese, Asiago is delicious on its own, or grate it onto pasta, salad, and soup as a finishing touch. It's a versatile cheese for drink pairings. For wines, try rioja, sauvignon blanc, shiraz, and zinfandel. For beer, opt for IPAs, nutty brown ales, Belgian ales, or porters.