Are you a fan of Asiago cheese but unsure if it has a spicy kick? You’re not alone.
With its Italian origins and versatile flavor, Asiago cheese is a popular choice for many dishes. But does it have a spicy taste? The answer is not so simple.
Depending on the aging process and type of Asiago cheese, it can range from mild and creamy to sharp and nutty.
In this article, we’ll explore the different types of Asiago cheese and whether or not it has a spicy flavor. So, grab a slice of your favorite cheese and let’s dive in!
Is Asiago Cheese Spicy?
The short answer is no, Asiago cheese is not inherently spicy. However, some varieties of aged Asiago can have a slightly spicy kick due to the aging process.
Fresh Asiago, also known as Asiago Pressato, is made using whole milk and is aged for about a month. This results in a mild and creamy cheese with no spicy flavor.
Aged Asiago, on the other hand, can be aged anywhere from a few months to two years. Mezzano is aged for three to eight months and has a lightly sweet and vegetal taste. Vecchio is aged for nine to 18 months and has a slightly bitter taste with a hard texture. Stravecchio is aged for 18 months to two years and has a hard, crumbly texture with an amber color and a spicy quality.
So, while some aged Asiago varieties may have a slight spiciness, it’s not a defining characteristic of the cheese.
The Origins Of Asiago Cheese
Asiago cheese has a long and rich history that dates back over a thousand years. The cheese was first made in the Asiago plateau region of Italy, which is located in the Veneto and Trentino regions. Initially, sheep’s milk cheese was used to make Asiago. Sheep raising dominated the green pastures of the Asiago Plateau between the 10th and 15th centuries, and the inhabitants of the mountainous area produced wool and many savory cheeses like Asiago.
Around 1500 A.D., cattle began to gradually replace sheep, thanks to modern breeding techniques. As a consequence, farmers began replacing sheep’s milk with cow’s milk to make their cheeses, including Asiago. Throughout the 19th century, the cheese became more popular as modern technology made it easier for other farmers to adopt the Asiago cheesemaking technique. Soon, neighboring farms in the Trentino area had adopted the cheese-making process too.
In 1979, the Consorzio Tutela Formaggio Asiago was founded in Vicenza, a small city in the northern Veneto region, to guarantee the authenticity and quality of Asiago cheese. This consortium represents more than 40 different Asiago cheesemakers today. Only cheese produced on the Asiago plateau in the Veneto foothills can be labeled as “Asiago DOP” (protected designation of origin). The cheese-making tradition in the provinces of Vicenza and Trento has been passed down through generations and is still alive today. The authentic Asiago cheese is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk and has a unique taste that can vary depending on its aging period.
The Aging Process Of Asiago Cheese
The aging process of Asiago cheese is crucial in determining its texture, flavor, and aroma. Both fresh and aged Asiago start out the same, but they change during the aging process.
Fresh Asiago is aged for only a month, which gives it a mild flavor and a soft, smooth texture. Aged Asiago, on the other hand, can be aged anywhere from a few months to two years. During this time, the cheese changes textures and flavors.
Asiago d’allevo, or aged Asiago, is divided into three categories based on the length of aging: Mezzano, Vecchio, and Stravecchio. Mezzano is aged for four to six months and has a compact paste with a straw-colored and sweetish taste. Vecchio is aged for nine to 18 months and has a slightly bitter taste with a hard texture. Stravecchio is aged for 18 months to two years and has a hard, crumbly texture with an amber color and a spicy quality.
The aging process of Asiago cheese involves several steps. First, the raw milk is heated to about 35°C (95°F), and rennet and enzymes are added to make it coagulate. The curd is then kneaded and partially cooked before being broken into many small parts. The paste is removed from the heat and stirred with a large whisk before being placed into molds lined with cheese cloth for forming.
The cheese is then left to rest for a couple of hours on a draining table before being turned several times. Next, in the pre-salting stage, the last whey is removed, and the DOP logo is impressed onto the side. The cheese is then salted by spreading salt over the surface of the cheese or by soaking it in brine.
The last step is the aging process, which lasts at least 60 days and must take place within the area of origin. The cheese is stored 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 aging, Asiago d’allevo is classified as Mezzano (4-6 months), Vecchio (10+ months), or Stravecchio (2+ years).
Types Of Asiago Cheese
Asiago cheese comes in various types, each with its unique flavor, texture, and aging process. Here are the different types of Asiago cheese:
1. Fresh Asiago: This type of Asiago cheese is also known as Asiago Pressato. It is made using whole milk and is aged for about a month. Fresh Asiago has a mild and creamy flavor with no spicy notes.
2. Aged Asiago: Aged Asiago comes in three categories: Mezzano, Vecchio, and Stravecchio. Mezzano is aged for three to eight months and has a lightly sweet and vegetal taste. Vecchio is aged for nine to 18 months and has a slightly bitter taste with a hard texture. Stravecchio is aged for 18 months to two years and has a hard, crumbly texture with an amber color and a spicy quality.
3. Extra-Aged Asiago: This type of Asiago cheese is aged for more than two years, resulting in an extremely hard texture with an intense, nutty flavor. Fresco Stravecchio is aged for over 18 months and has a hard texture with small crystalline grains and intensely flavored. Staggio is aged for 24-36 months, producing an extremely hard cheese with an incredibly strong flavor. Vecchio Riserva is aged for 36-48 months and has an extremely hard texture with an intense, nutty flavor.
Mild And Creamy Asiago Cheese
Fresh Asiago cheese, also known as Asiago Pressato, is a mild and creamy cheese with a soft texture. It has a delicate nutty flavor with subtle sweet and sour notes. This type of Asiago is made using whole milk and is aged for about a month. The result is a cheese that is perfect for those who prefer milder flavors.
Fresh Asiago has a white or pale yellow color with small, irregular holes throughout. It has a medium texture, similar to that of a firm sponge cake. It’s perfect for slicing or grating and can be used in a variety of dishes such as salads, sandwiches, and pasta.
The creamy texture of fresh Asiago makes it an excellent melting cheese. It can be used to add richness and depth of flavor to sauces, soups, and casseroles. It pairs well with fruits such as apples and pears, as well as with crackers, bread, and other snacks.
Sharp And Nutty Asiago Cheese
One of the defining characteristics of aged Asiago cheese is its sharp and nutty flavor profile. As Asiago cheese ages, it becomes firmer and drier, resulting in a more intense flavor. The longer it is aged, the sharper and nuttier it becomes.
Aged Asiago cheese is perfect for grating on top of pasta dishes or salads. Its sharpness adds a depth of flavor to any dish, while its nuttiness provides a pleasant contrast to the other ingredients.
In addition to being a great topping for dishes, aged Asiago cheese can also be used in recipes that require a strong flavor. It works wonderfully in lightly flavored risotto or as a complement to spring flavors in a spring pea risotto.
If you prefer a milder flavor, fresh Asiago cheese is a great option. Its semi-soft texture and mild flavor make it perfect for eating alone or using in everyday dishes like sandwiches or salads.