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Asiago is an Italian cow's milk cheese that can assume different textures, according to its aging, from smooth for the fresh Asiago (Asiago Pressato) to a crumbly texture for the aged cheese (Asiago d'allevo) of which the flavor is reminiscent of Parmesan. The aged cheese is often grated in salads, soups, pastas, and sauces while the fresh Asiago is sliced to prepare panini or sandwiches; it can also be melted on a variety of dishes, including bagels. Sometimes Asiago is treated as interchangeable with the parmesan and romano cheeses in some cuisines.
As Asiago has a protected designation of origin (Denominazione di Origine Protetta or DOP, see below), the only "official" Asiago is produced in the alpine area of the town of Asiago, province of Vicenza, in the Veneto region. Asiago cheese is one of the most typical products of the Veneto region. It was, and still is, the most popular and widely-used cheese in the DOP area where it is produced. The production area is strictly defined: it starts from the meadows of the Po Valley and finishes in the Alpine pastures between the Asiago Plateau and the Trentino's highlands. The officially designated area where the milk is collected and Asiago DOP cheese is produced, extends to four provinces in the north-east of Italy: the entire area of Vicenza and Trento and part of the provinces of Padua and Treviso. Asiago cheese which is produced and matured in dairies located more than 600 meters (~2000 ft) above sea level, using milk from farms also more than 600 meters above sea level, is entitled to the additional label “Product of the Mountains". Many imitations of Asiago, however, are produced elsewhere using different techniques and cultures that produce a cheese of a similar aspect but with a totally different taste.
The origin of Asiago cheese is very ancient like the history of the zone where it was born, which was colonized from the beginning of the Middle Ages. Conventionally its birth is dated around the year one thousand; in fact there are rare testimonies coming from the Asiago highland related to the preceding centuries.
During the tenth to fifteenth centuries in this region, known for its good grass, sheep raising was the predominant agricultural activity, the purpose of which was the production of savory cheese (at the beginning called “Pegorin”), and the wool production, destined for the textile works of the near valley (Valdagno, Schio, Piovene Rocchette..).
The sheep started to be replaced by cattle around 1500 as a consequence of the breeding’s modernization (especially thanks to the passage from the exploitation of the pasture to the care of the cut lawns); bovine milk replaced completely that of sheep in this region's cheeses, only in the 19th century.
During this period, the traditional cheese technique, today still preserved in the farms of the Plateau, is improved and thanks to the modern technology it also spread in the small and mid-sized dairies outspread in the territory of Asiago. The Asiago cheese production remains predominant in the Asiago Plateau until the nineteenth century; afterwards the production was also adopted in the neighboring lowland zone and in the near farms of Trentino.
One of the greatest causes of the production’s diffusion were the war events that caused a huge depopulation of the zone. Asiago was on the border with the Austrian Empire and was an area of contention and great battles both during during Napoleon's Italian campaign and during the First and Second World Wars.
The Consorzio Tutela Formaggio Asiago, which is based in Vicenza, was set up in 1979 to control the quality of Asiago cheese, to make sure the designations, markings and seals are used correctly and to raise awareness of the cheese in Italy and abroad. It represents more than forty cheese makers and cheese aging facilities, or affineurs.
Varieties and production Edit
This type is produced by using fresh whole milk. The first step is heating milk at 35° C (95° F); then specific enzymes and rennet are added as liquid solution and the milk starts to coagulate; so the batter is knead partially-cooked: the curd obtained is broken into many little parts (of the size of a nut); after this operation the paste is baked again at approximately 45° C (113° F). Later this the mixture is put into shapes with perforated walls; afterwards there is a first dry salting and then any mold is squeezed with a press, usually hydraulic, for about four hours. Then the rounds are wrapped laterally with plastic bands (which put the brand Asiago around the entire form) and are placed in a room called "Frescura" for about 2 or 3 days to dry.
At this point the bandages are removed to allow one last curing by a bath in brine for a period of two days. Then the forms are allowed to rest in a dry environment for a period ranging from 20 to 40 days. The finished cheese has a cylindrical shape with a diameter of 30—40 cm (12—16 in) and height about 15 cm (6 in). The average weight of a shape is 11—15 kg (24—33 lb). The crust is thin and elastic; dough inside is soft, buttery, white or slightly yellowish.
The sweet and delicate taste reminds of cream and fresh milk. Excellent as table cheese, but also for culinary uses. The origins of this type of Asiago date back to the past century, following the tastes-changing of modern consumers. It’s a cheese that has achieved fame and a considerable amount of production which continues to grow.
This type is produced by using a mixture of whole milk and skimmed milk. First the raw milk is heated at about 35 degrees (Celsius; 95° F) and rennet and enzymes are added as a liquid solution to make it coagulate. So the batter obtained is knead partially-cooked: the curd is broken into many small parts (of the size of a grain). At this stage there are two other firings respectively to 40 and 47 degrees (Celsius; 104-117° F).
The paste is removed from the heat, stirred with a huge whisk and then the curd is extracted and placed in moulds lined with cheesecloths for forming. It is divided up and left resting for a couple of hours (3-5) on a draining table and then the cheese is turned several times. The pre-salting stage then takes place where the last whey is removed and the DOP logo is impressed onto the side. This process takes a couple of days (at least 48 hours) and during this time the wheels are turned several times.
The cheese is then salted in one of two ways: by spreading salt over the surface of the cheese or by soaking it in brine.
The last step is the ageing process which lasts at least 60 days and must take place within the area of origin in warehouses where the storage temperature and relative humidity are meticulously controlled [optimal values are 10-15°C (50-59°F) and 80-85%].
According to the duration of the ageing the Asiago d’Allevo is divided :
-“Asiago Mezzano” (middle Asiago): 3/8 months ageing; compact paste, straw-colored and sweetish taste.
-“Asiago Vecchio” (old Asiago): 9/18 months ageing; hard paste, straw colored and bitter taste.
-“Asiago Stravecchio” (very-old Asiago): more than 18 months of ageing; very hard and grainy paste, amber-colored with a bitter and spicy taste.
Protected designation of originEdit
Asiago cheese is an Italian D.O.P. product (Denominazione di Origine Protetta), equivalent to a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). This simply means that the product can be considered as real by European law if and only if it is produced in its specific origin area, and according to a specific regime, known as the Disciplinare di produzione. The EU law does not necessarily apply outside the European Union. Previously it had enjoyed protected status in a number of European countries with which Italy had bilateral agreements under the Denominazione d’Origine awarded by the presidential decree of 21 December 1978 and subsequently modified by the prime-ministerial decree of 1993-08-03, and by the ministerial decree of 6 June 1995 under which the current Disciplinare came into force. ,
Asiago cheese is highly recommended for the elderly for a number of reasons: old people often find chewing difficult and frequently suffer from a lack of appetite. Cheese, especially soft cheese like fresh Asiago, is a welcome alternative for the elderly. It has a high calcium content, which is particularly useful for older people who suffer from osteoporosis. It also contains a good balance of calcium and phosphorus, which is an advantage in the regeneration of bones. Asiago cheese has so many qualities: it is easy to digest and is appetising; it contains live milk enzymes (especially in the fresh variety).
Asiago cheese 1 oz (28 g):
- Energy: 110 calories (460 kJ)
- Protein: 7.5 g
- Carbohydrate: 0.67 g
- Total Fat: 8.7 g
- Fiber: 0.0 g
- Calcium: 226 mg
- Phosphorus: 145 mg
Preparation, Uses and Tips Edit
Asiago is enjoyed as a complement to pasta, rice, pizza, or soup. It can also be served with bread, [Template fetch failed for http://community.wikia.com/wiki/Template:c:sausage:salami?action=render], or such fruits as fresh figs or pears, and it goes well with a variety of beverages such as red wine, cranberry juice, and sparkling grape juice.