I am just going to out myself right now. Today’s cheese, Asiago has a special place in my heart. It was one of the few non-cheddar cheeses that my family regularly ate while I was growing up. My mother will still insist that I pick her up some Asiago every time I go to Costco. Asiago changed the food landscape of my childhood from the banal to the sublime-thank you, Asiago.
The origin of Asiago cheese is ancient and goes back to at least the middle ages, around 1000 years ago in Italy. It was originally a sheep’s milk cheese but during the fifteenth century, sheep started to be replaced by cattle in the region, and cow’s milk replaced ewe’s milk. Asiago is now only made from cow milk.
Asiago DOP is a raw cow’s milk cheese made only within officially recognized production areas. the cheese is named of after the Asiago Plateau, in Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy. Asiago comes in two varieties: Asiago Pressato made in low-lying pastures, soft with irregular eyes (I haven’t been able to find this one) and Asiago d’Allevo (today’s cheese) which is harder and made from mountain-pasture milk. Both types of Asiago cheese are known as “mountain cheeses” because of their similarity to the Swiss Emmental and the French Comte.
Either type of Asiago DOP, Pressato or d’Allevo, can be made in small mountain dairies or larger factories. The co-operative dairies and the DOP regulations insure the quality of the milk regardless of its exact production area. Raw milk is coagulated then cut and reheated to expel the whey. After the cheese is put into molds for pressing it receives the DOP stamp in the rind. After this, the cheese is either brined or salted before being moved into maturing rooms for affinage called Frescura. The younger Mezzano cheeses are aged a minimum of three months and are relatively pliant and mild, whereas the aged cheeses are called Vecchio or Stravecchio and have a firmer texture and stronger flavour. These cheeses can be grated and are often substituted for Parmigiano.
The Consorzio Tutela Formaggio Asiago, based in Vicenza, was set up in 1979 to control the quality of Asiago cheese. This consortium controls the designation, markings and seals on the cheese and insures that they are used correctly. It also functions to raise awareness of the cheese in Italy and abroad and represents more than forty cheese makers. For the record, why doesn’t every cheese have its own consortium? These Italians have it right!
The problem with Asiago is that while it is a DOP, or a protected name cheese, it also isn’t. For some reason the DOP designation does not apply to this cheese when made outside of the European Union. Thus an awful lot of cheese is being made elsewhere and calling itself Asiago. Um, Consortium Tutela Formaggio Asiago, get on it! Do you think the Parmigiano Reggiano consortium would let anyone get away with that bullshit? Nuh-uh. I notice that my mother’s Costco Asiago says “made in Canada.” And you know what that means? It means it’s a big fat old fake, I hate that in a cheese!
Well today’s Asiago certainly isn’t a fake, it bears the DOP designation, and no one has the tenacity to fake that. It has a yellow paste with tiny eyes and a thin natural orange rind. It’s quite firm, although it can be cut without crumbling, but just barely. Mind you, this is the Mezzano version of D’Allevo, so it is younger. If I forgot this for a couple of months in the fridge it would be time to break out the grater. It’s a very mild smelling cheese, nothing offensive here.
How strange! This Asiago changes flavour as you chew it, that’s a first. Initially it was kind of astringent, then it moved into sweet, then it changed into salt. How do they do that? It’s like one of those gob-stoppers with different flavoured layers, except it’s cheese. This is definitely not the fake stuff I have been eating from Costco. Asiago D’Allevo is crumbly on the palate, it takes a good chew before dispersing. There is also a fantastic pop rocks like tyrosine crunch in this cheese. It’s an extremely fascinating eating experience, it almost has Multiple Personalities…another bite, now it tastes like grapes! Weird. I like it! Yes, Asiago, little darling, I shall only buy you in DOP version henceforth- you are definitely my slice of cheese.