Let me start off by saying that in the world of cheese, “light” does not have to mean fat free. To me, a light cheese is a cheese that won’t weigh you down; it isn’t too pungent or rich, and can easily be enjoyed on hot summer days.
I recently had occasion to find the perfect light cheese. My friend David Winkfield, a film producer and giant foodie, just purchased a new Big Green Egg smoker and has been using it like crazy. He invited a few friends over to his Brooklyn apartment to try out the grill and asked if I would bring cheese to the party (but of course!). He told me he was going to smoke brisket, chicken, and salmon — something for everyone.
I popped into one of my favorite Italian specialty shops in Lower Manhattan. I needed a cheese that would contrast the big, smoky flavors of barbeque — “brighten” them, so to speak — and one that would appeal to David’s young son and daughter as well. As I perused the choices, my eyes fell on a nice chunk of young Asiago pressato, and I knew this was the perfect cheese for the night.
Asiago pressato is a DOP (protected origin) cheese made in the Asiago plateau region of Italy, northwest of Venice near the Po River. Originally made from sheep’s milk, this fresh cheese has used cow’s milk since the 1500s. The shift came when dairy farmers realized that cows “crop” grass instead of pulling it up from the roots as sheep do, thus better preserving the integrity of the soil. It is a large format cheese, each form weighing between 22 and 34 pounds. The particular cheese I bought was around two months old, as opposed to the more common variety of Asiago, which is aged for nine months or longer. It still had tons of fresh-milk and butter flavors with a mild yogurt tartness.
The young Asiago was a smash hit at the smoke-out. It paired well with all of David’s smoked meats, and we even popped a few cheese cubes in the smoker as it cooled. David’s kids ate this homemade smoked cheese drizzled with honey as a fun dessert.
It had been a while since I’d tasted Asiago pressato. More often than not, I tend to opt for the more complex flavors of an aged Asiago, but in this case I was more than happy with my “light” choice. Asiago pressato has all the top notes of mountain cheeses and the fresh, clean flavors of the pastures of Italy. This summer, I’ll use it in pasta dishes, paired with fresh figs when in season, or any time I just want a nibble of satisfying — but light — cheese.
You can follow Raymond's cheese adventures on Facebook, Twitter and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.
Visit to an Italian Asiago Cheese Factory
This is the 3rd of four cheese producing factories that I visited on my trip to Italy with Sam’s Club cheese buyers: Monti Trentini, run by the Finco family. The Finco’s draw on their 80 years of experience with milk to produce Asiago, Provolone & Grana Padano. They pride themselves on combining both tradition and quality with modern technology, using genuine milk, incontaminated air, and experience – all going towards producing only high-quality cheeses from the Trentino region of Italy. The company lies within the Italian Alps. All cheeses of this region are produced from cows that graze on lush, mountain pastures. As a result, the cows produce thick and rich milk that serves as the backbone for making these full-flavored cheeses. Their milk comes from Brown Swiss cows, which are cultured to live in higher elevations. Black & white cows give off a lot of milk, but it tends to have a lower fat content. So, in this case, low fat is not good!
The company has a darling little dairy shop adjacent to the factory, where they sell a whole lot of cheese to locals. Again, I had to get decked out in protective, germ-free gear before enterting the factory. Attractive, huh?
Machines do the bulk of the work here. Asiago is cut into smaller curds during the cheese-making process (alternatively, a cheese like brie is cut into large curds).
The machines do their business with transferring the cheese formulas from tank to tank, eventually separating curds from whey and pressing the curds into large wheels. The wheels are sent down a conveyor belt and the workers wrap them with plastic to help them keep their shape.
Here, Federica Finco is showing us the plastic… it has imprints of the name of the cheese, origin, DOP label, etc. This is what is pressed around the cheese and creates the imprinted exterior of the wheel. DOP is a certification done by every country in Europe that makes sure the cheese is authentic and that it comes from the specific region that’s been identified.
The Asiago wheels are then placed in a brine for anywhere from 1 to 3 days, where it forms protective crust.
Then there’s a dude who paints a light coating of wax on the exterior of the cheese. You can give him your color preference. Sam’s Club was interested in “red.”
Asiago Fresco (Pressato), which has a nutty, mild, slightly sweet flavor, is aged 40 days. By contrast, the more mature Asiago d´Allevo is aged for a much longer period of time- it’s similar to Parmesan in both texture and flavor. Shelves and shelves of Asiago cheese fill their warehouses, aging and waiting for their maturity. The temperature in the aging rooms is cool, which slows the process of aging… it’s a different way of developing flavor.
And then there’s the packaging process. Machines cut the wheels into various shapes and sizes, but the workers need to inspect each piece (to check the quality of the cut) before it’s sent along on the conveyor belt to the wrapping machine.
After the tour, we headed to the board room. I sat in on the business meeting where Monti Trentini shared new products that they were offering. We tasted cheese too- lots of it.
At the meeting, I sat next to Gianfranco Finco, who runs the company with his children. Mr. Finco, who has been doing this since the 1950’s, comes to work each day in a full suit and tie. He doesn’t speak any English, but his pride shined through while his daughter Federica gave her presentation. I sheepishly asked to take a picture with Mr. Finco and his daughter. He politely nodded and was probably wondering who the heck I was and why I wanted a photo taken with him.
Sam’s Club already imports the Asiago Fresco from Monti Trentini. This is the soft, milder variety of Asiago. It’s great served on a cheese tray with crackers, fruits and red wine. It’s also delicious in sandwiches (grilled cheese is the best!) and grated into pasta sauces or egg dishes. I have loads of it at home right now just waiting to be used up in new recipe creations. The most amazing cheese we tasted at Monti Trentini was Truffle Cheese, which Sam’s will be importing as well. It’s a mild cheese with small black truffle pieces incorporated into it. The flavor… is irresistable… and it has the taste of truffles. It’s definitely not an acquired taste, by any means. I had some kids in my kitchen the other day tasting various cheeses for me, and guess which one they liked (by far) best? Yep, the Truffle Cheese. It’s good stuff all on its own, or I suppose you could grate it into various dishes in place of other cheeses.
It was clear that the Finco family is very proud of their cheeses and the processes in which they are made. It shows in the quality of their products. These were my favorite cheeses of all of the factories we toured.
Next Up: Parmigiano Reggiano!
Disclaimer: I’m currently under contract with Sam’s Club to write about my experience with visiting cheese companies in Italy. Honest opinions and observations are shared.
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Asiago Cheese Recipe
This Thermophilic culture is used in making a variety of cheese, including Mozzarella, Parmesan, Provolone, Romano, Swiss, Gruyere, and other Italian style cheeses, which require higher temperature ranges. Five individual packets are included, for.
LH 100 Thermophilic Starter Culture
LH 100 Thermophilc starter culture begins working after pressing and cooling of the cheese. This culture is a major factor in the flavor of mountain style cheese, such as Asiago, Beaufort, and Gruyere.
Liquid Animal Rennet
This single strength liquid animal rennet is the highest quality form of rennet available on the U.S. market today and is NON-GMO. Liquid rennet is easy to measure and add to.
This cheese salt absorbs easily and contains no iodine. Iodine will kill the lactic bacteria in the aging process. Lactic bacteria is important for proper aging of cheese. Cheese Salt does not dissolve too.
- Large Stainless Steel Pot
- Good Thermometer
- Curd Knife
- Slotted Spoon or Ladle to Stir Curds
- Draining Pan or Large Colander
- Large Hard Cheese Mold
- Butter Muslin
- Cheese Press (or 25 lbs weight)
- Cheese Mat
This Tel-Tru thermometer, made in the USA, from the highest-quality stainless steel is both accurate and easy to use. Complete with a sturdy pot clip and large two inch dial, checking the.
Curd Knife 14"
This curd knife is essential in the cheese making process. With a long 14" blade it is easy to evenly cut curds, so whey can expel. Having no sharp edges.
Stainless Steel Skimmer
This stainless steel skimmer is a staple for all cheese makers. The slotted design lets whey drain from the curds, as they are scooped out of the pot, and placed into draining.
Hard Cheese Mold (Large)
This large hard cheese mold will work with any of our cheese presses, includes a follower and has a solid bottom. This mold can be used to make hard cheese between 5 and 7 pounds.
Butter muslin is used to drain soft cheese, yogurt and other dairy products. This durable cloth is 100% cotton, can be reused and is machine washable. This is a staple for all cheese.
This cheese press is proudly made in the USA and built to last a lifetime. Both easy to use and care for it is a wonderful investment for any cheese maker. Built.
Reed Cheese Mat
This reed cheese mat is used when air drying cheese, especially soft, mold ripened cheese. Using this mat will allow whey to drain and air to circulate when cheese is draining, air drying and aging.
Before you Start
The batch size is 6 gallons but can be increased or decreased by altering the ingredients proportionately.
The milk for this recipe can be from either a pasteurized whole milk or a rich fresh farm milk. I have used an unpasteurized Jersey/ Normand mix with the fat% running close to 5%. If using pasteurized milk adding a little more cream could be an option for a richer cheese. This cheese will also use 2 cultures:
- A Thermophilic culture such as our C201 or TA061 will acidify the cheese by converting lactose to lactic acid.
- The second culture will be a Helveticus culture (LH100) which is characterized by it's ability to convert only part of the milk sugar and leave a sweet note in the final cheese. This is also a component in most of the Alpine style Swiss cheeses.There are many options for making Cottage Cheese. For this recipe I have decided to use the shorter set time to make it a little more practical for the home cheese maker. Enjoy!
Heat & Acidify Milk
Begin by heating the milk to 95-97¡F (warmer during the colder months and with higher fat%).
Once the milk is at the target temperature the following two cultures can be added:
This may seem like a small amount of culture because Asiago depends on a very slow acid development and much of this will take place on the second day while the cheese rests in the mold before salting.
The milk should then be allowed to ripen for 30 minutes before adding rennet.
Coagulate with Rennet
Add 5 ml of a single strength calf rennet once the milk has ripened. Enough rennet is added to form a good curd in about 25 minutes.
Stir the rennet into the milk in an up and down manner so that the milk quickly comes to rest.
Once the curd begins to set you will notice a thickening as the surface tension increases. It is still too soft to cut at this point.
When the full coagulation develops the curd will split cleanly.
Cut Curds & Release Whey
Once the curd has firmed it can be cut into about 3/8-1/2 inch pieces. The curds should then be slowly stirred for about 15-20 minutes until they become firmer. The temperature should be adjusted to the original culture temp.
Once the curds are firm, the heating of the curd begins by heating to 106¡F in 20 minutes. It is then held at this temp while stirring slowly for 15 min.
During the next 10 minutes, the heat is increased to 118F (during cool weather or with high fat % milk it may need to go as high as 123¡F).
At this point the curd should be dry enough but will need to produce more acid before draining. This can be accomplished by allowing the curd to settle to the bottom for another 20 minutes. They should be stirred lightly to keep from matting every 3-5 minutes.
Asiago needs to be drained well while keeping the curds separate. This will allow for the somewhat open texture of this cheese.
The curds need to be cooked to their final moisture then a cloth and draining pan are sanitized in hot water in preparation for the curd transfer and whey drainage.
The whey is then removed to the curd level and the curd is transferred to the draining pan.
The curds can now be transferred into a cloth lined cheese mold.
I use a mold diameter of about 7.5 inches for this cheese. The cloth should be folded over and a follower placed on top.
12 lbs of weight can be applied to the cheese mold for 30 minutes, then removed. After 30 minutes, flip the curds in the cloth and press with 25 lbs of weight for the 2 hours. After 2 hours, turn, re-wrapped and press with 25 lbs for another 2 hours.
At this point the cheese should be well consolidated. The weight can be removed and the cheese replaced in the mold.
The mold should be kept warm overnight at 75-85¡F while the bacteria continues to work producing more acid in the cheese. No salt should be added on the second day and again it is held overnight.
Salt & Age
On the third morning the cheese will be brined in a saturated brine at a rate of 3 hrs per lb. of cheese.
The cheese is now ready to be aged for 30-40 days.
The aging temperature is 54-58¡F and humidity of 85-87% should be maintained. Any surface mold should be wiped away with a saturated brine solution.
A Beautiful Valley
A Roman flyer, after having admired the Altopiano from the sky landed his two-engine plane at the Asiago airport and exclaimed "You have the most beautiful green meadows in the world, now I understand why your cheese is so good." (Nereo Stella)
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.
Italian Asiago is the original, but products from other areas are becoming a popular alternative to this aged parmesan-like cheese.
Traditional Asiago is a semi-hard cheese that is produced exclusively in a region within the Italian Alps. Today, other countries produce Asiago, including Canada and the United States. At its varying stages of ripeness, it is similar to the more expensive parmesan.
Originally a sheep&rsquos milk product, Asiago is now made exclusively from cow&rsquos milk.
The matured cheese is called Asiago d&rsquoallevo and is made from skimmed milk. Hard, aged cheeses are best for grating, while less mature versions can be sliced or cubed and served with appetizers or melted as a pizza topping.
A fresh cheese, which is aged only a few months and then compressed is called Asiago pressato. It is a good choice for melting or cutting into chunks and adding to salads. Pressato is made from whole milk and tastes sweeter. American made variations of pressato are available, but this cheese is not imported from Italy.
Choose Asiago based on cooking and serving needs. At a young age, it is called &ldquodolce," medium aged is &ldquomedio,&rdquo and hard-aged is &ldquopiccante.&rdquo At a few months, the cheese has a mild spicy taste, which grows stronger with time.
This cheese is also grouped by taste: young (fresco), medium ripened (mezzano/mezzanello), old (vecchio), and very old (stravecchio).
Genuine Asiago will be marked D.O.C. (Controlled Designation of Origin) and D.O.P./D.P.O. (Protected Designation of Origin). This certifies that the process of raising and feeding cows for milk and then making the cheese has been strictly regulated within exclusive areas of Italy.
Most Asiago d&rsquoallevo is sold in wedges with a waxy reddish-brown rind. An entire wheel will weigh up to thirty-one pounds. Always make sure a portion of rind is attached. It not only protects the cheese but also is imprinted with the verifiable origin.
Aged cheeses will keep for several months in the refrigerator&rsquos vegetable drawer. Reuse the original wrapper if possible or wrap in plastic (as an alternative, perforate aluminum foil). You can also cover with a wet cloth (remoisten daily). Specialty cheeses need to breath, but should not be allowed to dry out.
Young cheeses will generally remain fresh for about a month in the refrigerator.
&bull Asiago can accompany fruits and nuts, and sliced meats such as salami.
&bull Grate it over salads, or rice and pasta dishes and add it to soups and special sauces.
The Cheesy Vegetarian: Soft Asiago PretzelsBecca McGilloway | August 15, 2016
During my fourteen years of being sans meat, I’ve found that when you ask vegetarians “Why aren’t you a vegan?” their response is either “too expensive” or “cheese.” In order to help my comrades–in–vegetables out, I’m scouring the internet for the cheesiest meat-free recipes around. Join me on my journey to recreate the best, and learn the history of our favorite cheese while we’re at it.
Missed last week’s recipe? Check out these better-than-takeout cheese wontons.
Every time I go to the mall, I have to get a warm pretzel. It doesn’t feel right to walk past the salty carbs and ignore them. This recipe for Asiago Pretzels makes all of my dreams come true: It’s gooey and soft like the mall pretzels, but it won’t empty out my wallet at a department store when I’m finished eating. Plus, it features my favorite cheese—the pungent and delicious asiago.
Similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, authentic Asiago has a Protected Designation of Origin, meaning the official stuff can only come from the Asiago Plateau in the mountains of the Veneto region in Italy (the capital is Venice). Lucky for us, cheesemakers and grocers sell asiago-styles stateside that are more than good enough to win us over. For this recipe, you’ll need to buy a wedge and grate it or buy a container that comes pre-shredded.
Although the original version was made over one thousand years ago with sheep’s milk, asiago today is created with cow’s. Fresh asiago, known as asiago pressato, is made with whole milk and only aged for a month—its soft texture makes it perfect for melting. The harder, more popular version made with whole and skim milk, asiago d’allevo, is aged anywhere from four months to two years. Since it turns crumbly, it’s best shaved over salads or pasta.
I know what you’re thinking—”This history lesson is great, but why does it smell like that?” It’s true: asiago smells sorta like feet, but it also tastes like heaven. Culture’s go-to cheese expert Gianaclis Caldwell notes “that the same odor-manufacturing bacteria are present on both toes and on cheese. These bacteria produce volatile chemicals with memorable aromas while transforming the proteins in cheese into unbelievably delicious flavors.” So, kinda icky, but definitely delicious now, let’s dive into world of perfect mall pretzels.
This recipe comes from the Accidental Happy Baker, who made the recipe for the softest pretzels, ever! Read ahead to find out how to make your own.
Asiago Cheese Crackers
Crackers are my snack weakness. I never have less than three (or four) different kinds in my pantry. And while I limit buying and eating processed foods, I make an exception for store-bought crackers. I just love them too much. And let’s face it, they’re convenient to have around. Store-bought crackers are great as the trusted saviors of many a dinner party appetizer, but homemade crackers are special. I don’t try my baking hand at them nearly enough which is a shame because they’re so easy and fun to make. After seeing these on Marilena Leavitt’s Instagram feed a few weeks ago, I knew I had to make them. Marilena made hers with cheddar cheese, but I wanted to put an Italian spin on them, so I modified her recipe into Asiago cheese crackers with huge (and tasty) success.
Asiago is a raw cow’s milk cheese from the Asiago plateau in the north-eastern region of Veneto. The milk for Asiago comes primarily from the Pezzata Nera and Bruno Alpina cattle. There are three types of Asiago cheese: asiago d’allevo which is matured in mountain dairies with milk from two milkings and is aged for at least three months. The second type is aged over nine months and referred to as vecchio. A more mature variety called stravecchio is aged for nineteen months or more and takes on a hard and grainy texture as it ages, which is perfect for grating over pasta and polenta. A third and more recent type known as asiago pressato uses pasteurized milk, is aged twenty days, and yields a less pungent cheese.
The dough for these crackers couldn’t be any easier to make or work with. If you’re new to dough-making, this recipe is a great one to start with. It comes together quickly in the food processor and doesn’t require any resting or chilling. It’s also versatile and can be made with different cheeses for flavor variety. In addition to Asiago, you could also use Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, Gruyère, Cheddar, or Gorgonzola. Cheeses with stronger flavors will yield flavorful crackers. I had fun cutting the dough into small bite-size rounds, but they could also be cut into strips with a decorative pastry wheel. Regardless of how you cut the dough, you’ll get plenty of crackers to enjoy, and they won’t last long!
Tre Stelle® Italian Asiago Pressato DOP Cheese
Cow's milk, salt, rennet. Rind not edible.
Nutrition Facts, per 30 g, Amount (% Daily Value): Calories 110 | Fat 9 g 14 % | Saturated 5 g + Trans 0 g 25 % | Cholesterol 25 mg | Sodium 0 mg 0 % | Carbohydrate 0 g 0 % | Fibre 0 g 0 % | Sugars 0 g | Protein 7 g | Vitamin A 4 % | Vitamin C 0 % | Calcium 20 % | Iron 0 %
The cheese first made on the plateau of Asiago, then it spread to other places in the Veneto as well as Trento, Padova and Treviso.
Before the 1600s, sheep’s milk was used, making it a “pecorino” cheese (pronounced “pegorin” in the local dialect.) In the 1600s, the practice of raising cows reached the plateau. The cheesemakers made the switch to cow’s milk when it became available, because their customers in the towns and cities would pay a higher price for cow’s milk products than they would for sheep or goat’s milk products.
Asiago d’Allevo received its DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) in 1955.
The “pressato” variety was developed in the 1920s.
How To Choose Authentic Cheese
If you truly want to experience the amazing flavor of these Italian cheeses here are few tips to choosing your cheese:
1. Shape: ALWAYS choose cheese that is in a wedge. The cheese will be fresher and grating it yourself releases incredible aromas.
2. Stamp of Approval: Look for cheeses that have stamped rinds or seals printed on their label. These marks are usually the sign that the cheese has been approved to meet some quality standard. (Remember how strict the Italians are about their cheese!)
3. Location: Look for regional names. That way you know your cheese is actually coming from Italy and probably from a trusted region.
4. Age: If you are unsure of the flavor, remember to look for how long the cheese has been aged. No aging will be the most mild and creamy. Aging for a year (or more) will produce a hard and sharp cheese.
Do you have a favorite Italian cheese? We&rsquod love to hear about it!
If you liked this recipe, here are some similar dishes you may enjoy!
Sarah is co-owner of Curious Cuisiniere and the chief researcher and recipe developer for the site. Her love for cultural cuisines was instilled early by her French Canadian Grandmother. Her experience in the kitchen and in recipe development comes from years working in professional kitchens. She has traveled extensively and enjoys bringing the flavors of her travels back to create easy-to-make recipes.