Asiago vs Parmesan: Similar Looks, Different Tastes

asiago cheese vs parmesan

Asiago vs Parmesan: Similar Looks, Different Flavors

Surprisingly many people seem to either not know about Asiago cheese or confuse it with Parmesan cheese. So many, in fact, that “are Asiago and Parmesan the same” is the second most-often searched question about Asiago, right after the “what is Asiago cheese.”

Good for you if you know the answer to both of these questions! Don’t be in a hurry to leave. You might still find some worth in examining the intricacies of the problem.

But if you’ve yet to learn about the Asiago cheese, let’s start at the very basics before tackling the question of its similarities with the most popular Italian cheese.

What is Asiago Cheese?

Asiago cheese is one of the oldest varieties of hard Italian cheese. Nowadays, it’s made with cow’s milk (either whole or a mixture of whole and skimmed milk). But it’s a common assumption that a proto version of Asiago cheese has been around long before the current one popped up and was initially made with sheep milk.

Asiago Plateau, where this cheese originated, was known for its pastures and sheep raising between the 10th and 15th centuries. It wasn’t until the 16th century that cow milk production overtook sheep milk production and changed the manufacturing process for many cheese varieties, including Asiago.

Having been granted Italian Protected Designation of Origin status (Denominazione di Origine Protetta or DOP) in 1996 established that Asiago Plateau (Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige regions) is the only place where authentic Asiago cheese can be produced.

Texture: While Asiago cheese is typically classified as hard cheese, in reality, its texture can vary between medium and hard, depending on the maturation stage. Its status as a hard cheese primarily rises from the tradition of aging it to full ripening, with aging Asiago for a shorter period of time and fresh cheese only becoming a thing in the early 20th century. 

The medium texture of younger Asiago cheese is somewhat elastic and firm, often compared to a denser sponge cake. As the cheese ages, the texture becomes more compact and granular. Like many other types of Swiss cheese, Asiago sometimes sports eyes (tiny holes irregularly dotting its interior) that get smaller as the maturation process continues. Fresh Asiago will likely have numerous easily noticeable eyes, while a fully aged one will have few if any, apparent at first glance to a naked eye.

Color: Its visuals are also heavily dependent on the aging process. Asiago cheese color is almost entirely determined by how long it’s been aged and can range from white or very pale yellow to a dark, almost amber, yellow. Asiago cheese develops a thin rind during the maturation process that is edible at earlier stages but toughens with time. The younger cheese rind looks somewhat similar to French Camembert's, though it’s not as soft and is easier to cut off and discard. While it becomes inedible when matured, the rind is flavorful and sometimes added to stocks and sauces to achieve a more potent taste.

Flavor Profile: Once again, the primary determinant is the stage of the cheese's maturation. Asiago cheese can be sweet and buttery when young but will quickly lose the sweetness once aged, with primary flavor notes swiveling towards sharp nuttiness and yeastiness. 

Indeed, the easiest way to determine what to expect from Asiago cheese is to carefully examine the packaging to learn how long the cheese has been aged and (or) which subtype it belongs to.

Types of Asiago Cheese:

As we’ve already mentioned multiple times, the aging process significantly influences all characteristics of Asiago cheese. It determines the texture, color, and, most importantly, the flavor of the cheese, with each type tasting distinctly different. So it shouldn’t be surprising that aging is the primary determinant when categorizing Asiago cheese.

Asiago Pressato or Pressed Asiago is a fresh, young cheese made with whole milk. It’s aged for only 20 to 40 days. Asiago Pressato is either white or very pale yellow in color. The texture is medium-soft, reminiscent of a sponge cake, dotted with many tiny eyes throughout. It has a thin and soft, edible rind.

Asiago d’Allevo is the classic, properly aged Asiago cheese, typically made with a mixture of whole milk and skimmed milk and aged for no less than 60 days. It has a proper hard texture with fewer eyes, is of a darker (but still quite pale) yellow color, and has a hardened rind that should be discarded.

Asiago Mezzano or Middle Asiago is a subtype of Asiago d’Allevo, aged between 4 and 8 months. It has a compact and dense texture and is bright straw-yellow in color. 

Asiago Vecchio or Old Asiago is also a subtype of Asiago d’Allevo, aged for no less than 9 and up to 18 months. It has a hard and crumbly texture, becoming increasingly granular at the latter stage of aging. The color ranges between bright straw-yellow, similar to Asiago Mezzano, and darker yellow.

Asiago Stravecchio or Very Old Asiago is the final subtype of Asiago d’Allevo, that slightly overlaps with Asiago Vecchio. Any Asiago cheese aged for more than 15 months can be categorized as Straveccio (though the label is most commonly used for cheese aged for over 18 months). It has a very hard, dry, and grainy texture. The color is darker, close to amber-like, yellow. 

What Does Each Type of Asiago Cheese Taste Like?

Asiago Pressato or Pressed Asiago flavor is mainly sweet, creamy, and buttery. Due to the short aging process, it has distinct sour undertones, giving the cheese a somewhat tangy aftertaste. 

Asiago d’Allevo is more complex but primarily sweet, having lost the sour tones through the aging process. Instead, its flavor undertones are nutty and fruity. 

Asiago Mezzano or Middle Asiago, is primarily nutty and savory. However, there’s still strong sweetness present as an undertone, along with a bit of yeast creeping in, creating a complex and multi-layered flavor profile. 

Asiago Vecchio or Old Asiago loses the still present sweetness and fruitiness that have been characteristic of younger Asiago varieties. Instead, distinct bitterness starts to raise its head but still defers nuttiness as the primary flavor note. Asiago Vecchio has the yeasty undertones becoming more prominent.

Asiago Stravecchio or Very Old Asiago has a very sharp and savory taste, with distinct bitter notes taking the leading role, with nutty and slightly spicy undertones adding to the flavor complexity.

Are Asiago and Parmesan the Same? Why They Get Compared so Often:

Asiago is commonly given as an example of a good substitute for Parmesan cheese, but the two are definitely not the same. They’re both a type of hard Italian cheese, so there are definitely certain similarities between the two. Still, if you’ve tasted both Parmesan (especially the authentic Parmigiano Reggiano) and Asiago, you aren’t likely to mistake one for the other.

The comparisons primarily arise from the visual similarities between the two (or, to be more exact, due to visual similarities between Parmesan and Asiago d’Allevo that’s been aged for more than nine months).

Parmesan, too, is most often of straw-yellow color and becomes darker and more intense the further the aging process goes and has a hard, dry, granular texture. However, once you look past the surface, the differences between the two become apparent.

Firstly, while Asiago d’Allevo is a hard cheese, it’s not a Grana cheese with its crystalline texture that requires splitting rather than slicing. Even Asiago Stravecchio, with its long aging process and dry, grainy texture, doesn’t come quite close to fully aged Parmigiano Reggiano.

Secondly, and most importantly, their flavor profiles are quite different. While the primary flavor notes of Asiago d’Allevo are somewhat reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano, the latter’s flavor profile is just more complex and multi-layered. 

Asiago cheese is slightly more buttery, creamy, and nutty than Parmesan, but it also has a more well-pronounced and noticeable bitterness, especially Asiago Stravecchio. 

On the other hand, Parmesan tends to be sharper and more robust and has well-expressed fruity and savory notes, as well as distinct earthiness. All in all, Parmigiano Reggiano, especially fully aged one, contains a bit more traits characteristic of what we call umami flavor.

A crude comparison would say that a well-aged Asiago, like Vecchio or Stravecchio, is comparable to moderately aged Parmesan, or what we refer to as regular Parmigiano Reggiano. But anything above Parmigiano Reggiano Vecchio (in other words, parmesan cheese that’s aged for over 18 months) is more robust but not nearly as bitter as well-aged Asiago tends to be. In Parmesan, bitterness stays an undertone that adds another layer of flavor but doesn’t become the leading note. Instead, the taste is savory and nutty, with subtle bitterness adding a pleasant layer.

However, you’re likely not a cheese connoisseur that’s well-versed in the differences between the flavor profiles of Parmesan and Asiago cheese. In that case, you’ll find they act as relatively fit substitutes for one another, especially in recipes with multiple ingredients that use Parmesan (or Asiago) as a flavoring ingredient that accentuates others, particularly as a topping.

What is Asiago Cheese Best for?

Asiago Pressato, with its mellow flavor, is a versatile cheese that goes well with most ingredients. It’s often used as a filling for sandwiches, both hot and cold varieties (it melts rather well). 

Asiago d’Allevo is often used in similar ways as Parmesan cheese, mainly due to the similarities in their texture qualities, which, undoubtedly, only serves to flame the notion that they’re either completely the same or, at the very least, easily interchangeable.

Asiago is a rather versatile cheese, so you can pair it with most meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts and enjoy it either as a snack by itself or as an ingredient in a more complex dish.

If this is your first time trying Asiago, it’s better to give it a taste while only pairing it with some buttery, lightly salted crackers or soft white bread (like ciabatta or baguette) to fully understand what it tastes like. 

As an ingredient, it can serve all the same purposes Parmigiano Reggiano serves. You can add some grated Asiago to your pasta, pizza, ravioli, omelet, or more substantial dishes like casseroles, lasagna, stews, etc. It makes a good pairing with most meats, both cooked (steak, roasted chicken, etc.) and cured, like salami, prosciutto, and guanciale. 

It’s not inconceivable that you might even enjoy it more than Parmigiano Reggiano in certain dishes. Asiago has a wonderful, if a bit less layered flavor than Parmesan cheese, and that lack of complexity can serve to its benefits in certain situations or with certain people.

If you’re interested in comparing and contrasting the two, you can explore the collection at Yummy Bazaar’s online cheese store at any time!

How Long Does Asiago Cheese Last?

Commercially packaged Asiago cheese is usually marked with a “best by” or “sell by” date on the label. As long as it’s vacuum-sealed, this type of Asiago can last between 3 months and sometimes up to a year while maintaining its flavor qualities. But if the packaging is damaged in any way, this timeline starts to decrease rapidly. You should carefully examine your Asiago package and immediately notify the manufacturer if you notice any damage.

Once the cheese isn’t vacuum-sealed anymore, its shelf life cuts down to 4 to 6 weeks. To maximally extend the shelf life, wrap the cheese either in parchment or wax paper, then wrap plastic wrap or aluminum foil around it and keep it in the refrigerator.

Freezing can significantly increase its shelf life, with the cheese maintaining its flavor quality for up to 12 months. It’s safe for consumption even past that point, but after the 12 months marker, the flavor quality starts to decline. 

Also, remember that it’s better to use defrosted Asiago for dishes that require cooking, as the texture may suffer after the cheese is thawed. Pre-grating Asiago and freezing it like that instead of a whole chunk is one solution to the problem.

 

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