Last Updated on June 9, 2023 by Aaron
Asiago cheese, a culinary gem hailing from the Alpine meadows of Northern Italy, has been delighting palates for over a thousand years.
This semi-hard cheese, known for its rich and versatile flavor profile, is a testament to the art of cheese making that has been passed down through generations.
From the lush pastures of the Asiago Plateau to the tables of gourmet restaurants worldwide, Asiago cheese has carved a niche for itself in the world of gastronomy.
Table of Contents
The story of Asiago cheese is a tale steeped in history, tracing its roots back to the verdant Asiago Plateau in the Veneto foothills of Italy.
These cows, their diet consisting of fresh alpine grass, are the starting point of a remarkable aromatic milk that ends on your plate.
The cheese’s origins date back to over a millennium ago, with the first documented production dating back to the year 1000 AD. It was during this time that the farmers of the region, blessed with lush pastures and ideal dairy farming conditions, began crafting this unique cheese.
Asiago cheese is a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage and the ingenuity of its people.
Over the centuries, the cheese-making process has evolved, adapting to changes in technology and market demands. However, the traditional methods and the unique characteristics of the region continue to play a crucial role in its production.
The production of Asiago cheese has not only stood the test of time but has also become a symbol of the region’s identity.
Today, Asiago cheese is recognized as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product, a testament to its unique link to the geographical area of production.
As we delve deeper into the world of Asiago cheese, we discover that each wheel of cheese is not just a product of milk, rennet, and time, but a reflection of the region’s history, its people, and their enduring relationship with the land.
The process of making Asiago cheese is a delicate balance of art and science.
It begins with the heating of cow’s milk, which can be either partially skimmed or whole, depending on the type of Asiago being produced. Many producers of traditional Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Asiago are still using unpasteurized milk.
The heated milk is then coagulated with rennet, an enzyme that causes the milk to form curds. These curds are cut, cooked, and pressed into molds, beginning their transformation into cheese.
The next stage of the process is perhaps the most crucial – aging.
The cheese is aged for a period ranging from a few weeks to more than a year, depending on the desired flavor and texture. Read detail about asiago cheese making process here.
During this time, the cheese develops its characteristic flavor and texture, a process that is carefully monitored by the cheese makers.
There are two main types of Asiago cheese:
- Asiago Pressato: This is a fresh cheese that is lightly pressed and aged for a short period. Made with whole milk, Asiago Pressato is matured for about a month (typically 20 to 40 days) and sold fresh as a softer, milder cheese. It has a smooth texture and is perfect for melting or slicing over salads and sandwiches.
- Asiago d’Allevo: This is a mature cheese that is aged for a longer period. Asiago d’allevo is matured for different time periods; Mezzano for 4-6 months, Vecchio for more than ten months and Stravecchio for two years. It has a crumbly texture and is ideal for grating over pasta or used in sauces.
The aging process significantly influences the flavor, texture, and color of the cheese.
Fresh Asiago has a smooth texture and a sweet, creamy flavor. As the cheese ages, it develops a firmer texture and a more robust flavor. Additionally, it will has a slight earthy and nutty taste.
The rind of the cheese also changes with age, ranging from a straw-colored and elastic rind in fresh Asiago to a brownish-grey and hard rind in aged Asiago.
Nutritional Profile and Health
Asiago cheese, like other cheeses, is a good source of essential nutrients. It provides minerals and fatty acids that are important for human nutrition and health.
The composition of Asiago cheese can vary depending on factors such as the type of milk used (species and breed), rearing conditions (feeding and management), and cheese-making technology (coagulation process, addition of salt, ripening period). A study (1) provided insights on the minimum obligations on the farming systems of over 500 dairy farms of PDO asiago, which including hill or lowland, tietall or loose housing, feeding system, milking system and more.
In another study where 4 different mountain Asiago dairies were sampled (2). The results showed a range concentrations of β-caryophyllene (and α-humulene) at levels of 21 to 65 μg/kg. While found only in low concentrations, these compounds show anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, meaning it could potentially help to reduce pain and inflammation. It’s also been studied for potential anti-cancer properties.
These compounds also contribute to the earthy, woody notes of asiago.
Furthermore, the Aged Asiago cheese, due to its lower moisture content, usually have higher concentrations of nutrients like protein, fat, and minerals per serving compared to fresh Asiago (3). However, its stronger flavor often leads to it being consumed in smaller quantities than its fresh counterpart.
For a more detailed understanding of the nutritional profile of asiago, here is a breakdown per 100g serving by Belgioioso, Aged Asiago (4):
- Energy: 357 kcal
- Fat: 28.6g
- Saturated fat: 17.9g
- Cholesterol: 89mg
- Protein: 25g
- Carbohydrate: 0g
- Sodium: 1210mg
- Calcium: 714mg
- Vitamin A: 1070 IU
Please note that these values obtained from USDA are for a specific brand and can vary based on the specific variety and production batches. For the most accurate nutritional information, it’s recommended to check the label of the specific Asiago cheese product you are consuming.
- High in Protein: Asiago cheese is a good source of high-quality protein, which is essential for many bodily functions, including muscle repair and growth, immune function, and the production of hormones and enzymes.
- Rich in Calcium: Asiago cheese is high in calcium, a mineral that’s crucial for bone health, nerve function, muscle contraction, and blood clotting.
- Contains Probiotics: Some types of Asiago cheese contain probiotics, beneficial bacteria that can support gut health.
- High in Sodium and Saturated Fat: Asiago cheese is high in sodium and saturated fat. High sodium intake can contribute to high blood pressure, and a diet high in saturated fat can increase your risk of heart disease.
- Lactose Intolerance: Asiago cheese contains lactose, a type of sugar that some people have trouble digesting. People with lactose intolerance may experience digestive symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, and gas after eating Asiago cheese.
- Allergies: Some people are allergic to cow’s milk and milk products like Asiago cheese. Symptoms of a milk allergy can range from mild (hives, wheezing, vomiting) to severe (anaphylaxis).
It’s important to note that while Asiago cheese can be a part of a healthy diet, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
A balanced diet should include a variety of foods to ensure you’re getting a wide range of nutrients.
Asiago cheese is incredibly versatile in the kitchen and can be used in a variety of dishes. Its unique flavor profile can enhance both savory and sweet recipes. Here are some culinary uses for Asiago cheese:
Fresh Asiago (Asiago Pressato): This version of Asiago cheese is softer and milder due to its shorter aging period. It’s excellent for melting and can be used in a variety of dishes such as sandwiches, pasta, and sauces. Fresh Asiago can also be sliced and used in salads for a creamy, mild addition.
- Asiago Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Use slices of fresh Asiago cheese in your next grilled cheese sandwich for a creamy, mild flavor. Pair it with some fresh tomatoes and basil for an Italian twist.
- Creamy Asiago Pasta: Melt fresh Asiago cheese into a cream sauce and toss it with your favorite pasta. Add some grilled chicken or sautéed vegetables for a complete meal.
- Asiago Salad: Slice fresh Asiago cheese and add it to a salad of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and a light vinaigrette.
Aged Asiago (Asiago d’allevo): Aged Asiago cheese has a crumbly texture and a more robust flavor. It’s perfect for grating over dishes like pasta, risotto, and soups. Aged Asiago can also be used in salads or served with fruits and nuts as part of a cheese platter.
- Asiago Risotto: Grate aged Asiago cheese into a risotto at the end of cooking. The cheese will add a robust flavor to the creamy rice dish.
- Roasted Vegetable and Asiago Soup: Roast your favorite vegetables, puree them with some vegetable stock, and stir in grated aged Asiago cheese for a hearty, flavorful soup.
- Asiago Cheese Platter: Serve chunks of aged Asiago cheese on a cheese platter with fruits like apples and pears, nuts like almonds and walnuts, and some crusty bread or crackers.
The flavor of Asiago cheese pairs well with a variety of foods. It can complement the flavors of fruits like apples and pears, and it also pairs well with nuts like almonds and walnuts.
In terms of beverages, Asiago cheese can be paired with a variety of wines, from white to red, depending on its age. Learn more about asiago in wine pairing.
Price of Asiago Cheese: Expensive?
The price of Asiago cheese varies depending on the brand, type, and length of ripening. Here are a few examples:
- BelGioioso, Asiago Cheese, 8 oz (Pack of 3): This costs approximately $14.99, which means each pack is around $5. If buy more, you can get around $4.
- igourmet Asiago Pressato DOP Cheese (7.5 ounce): This is priced at about $8.99 for a 7.5-ounce piece. The aged version goes for $9.99.
- Murray’s Asiago d’Allevo Cheese (1 lb): This is a bit more expensive, costing around $23 for a pound.
In the United States, you will likely get a domestic asiago for around $9 per pound, while imported Italian asiago costs about $16-20 per pound, or some others can drive up to $40.
Whether Asiago cheese is considered expensive depends on your personal budget and how much you value the cheese. Compared to other cheeses, Asiago is generally considered to be moderately priced and not particularly expensive. It’s not as expensive as some high-end artisanal cheeses, but it’s more expensive than basic supermarket cheeses.
Based on the data from CLAL, the price of Asiago cheese has seen some fluctuations over the years.
In 2023 particularly, the retail price for Asiago cheese in fixed-weight packaging was around €11.22 per kg on average from January to April, showing an increase of about 30.73% compared to the same period in 2022. These prices can be influenced by a variety of factors.