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. I’m very fortunate that most of my friends are in the food and wine business, so when they entertain, eating well is a given. 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 Originally made from sheep’s milk, this fresh cheese has used cow’s milk since the 1500s.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.