Asiago Pepato


My latest creation:
I always wish I could make a perfect cheese. That darn cheesecloth leaves lines.

Asiago is a firm pressed Italian cheese. It can be aged for several weeks for a mild fresh cheese, or aged longer for a harder, more flavorful one. In this case, I’m planning to age it for several months, and the “Pepato” means it’s sprinkled with whole peppercorns to add a peppery flavor. (The peppercorns can be flicked out before eating–you don’t want to eat whole peppercorns. Pepato is pepper in Italian.) Pictured, the cheese is just out of the press and ready to go into the brine.
After brining for 12 hours, it will be air-dried for a few days then I’ll vacuum seal it.

The purpose of air-drying is to prepare the cheese for aging. During air-drying, a cheese begins to set its natural rind. This is done at room temperature. I’ve had a few questions about vacuum sealing, so I want to talk about that a little bit. Hard cheeses are either waxed, bandaged, or vacuum sealed during aging. I’ve waxed cheeses a lot, but there are a couple of things I don’t like about it. For one thing, you can’t see the cheese anymore after waxing, until you open it. You have no idea what’s going on in there. Second, waxing is a tedious process. It’s not difficult, it’s just time-consuming and tiresome. I’ve never bandaged a cheese, though I might try that sometime. Bandaging involves rubbing lard, butter, or shortening over the cheese, wrapping in a layer of cheesecloth, rubbing with the lard (or butter or shortening) again then another layer of cheesecloth. I don’t find this process very appealing, though it’s typically recommended for certain cheeses such as Cheddar. Because the cheese is not as securely sealed (as with waxing or vacuum sealing), mold is more likely, though it should form on the larded cloth rather than on the cheese. Vacuum sealing is a very quick process and serves the same function as waxing, being just as effective at putting a stop to mold by completely sealing the cheese.

The aging process allows hard cheeses to develop their flavor and texture. During aging, it’s important to protect the cheese against undesirable bacteria and to prevent it from drying out too much. I always tell people, when dealing with a home environment, set up what works the best in your individual environment. I don’t make Cracker Barrel Cheddar–I make Sassafras Farm Cheddar. (And the same with other cheeses.) Wherever you are, there are natural cultures in the air, individual to your location. Then there are the individual nuances of your process, no matter how closely you follow the recipe. And then there are your individual aging techniques and atmosphere based on what is available to you in your home. I age my cheeses in the refrigerator on the studio deck. I keep bottled water in there, and nothing else–other than aging cheeses–so I set the temperature on the fridge to the lowest setting and am able to keep it in the upper 40s. This isn’t a perfect aging temperature, but it’s better than a 38-degree normal refrigerator temperature and will allow most mid-range hard cheeses to ripen.

In my individual environment, I make Sassafras Farm cheeses, and I’m okay with that. I’m not Cracker Barrel and I’m not trying to be. And neither should you! Which is why I always encourage people to relax, experiment, and learn what works for them, in their environment, and make their cheeses. Remember that climate and geography is how all the different cheeses originated–those specific cheeses are replicated today (without living in Cheddar, England or Gouda, Holland) by using culture, temperature, humidity, and other processes. But the cheese you make in your home is always your cheese, resulting from your processes and environmental factors.

By the way, the book pictured with the cheese above is Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin. I was at my friend Sarah’s house teaching her and her husband how to make hard cheese a few weeks ago and Sarah had this book. I looked through it and was really interested in it so I ordered one for myself. It has a lot of cool cheese ideas. The Asiago Pepato is the first one I’ve tried, but there are several more on my list to make soon, including a honey-rubbed Montasio and a Brew-Curds Cheddar. Don’t those sound good?

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on September 23, 2015  

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4 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 9-23

    Pretty! Michael says, “Cool!”

  2. 9-23

    Beautiful! Who cares about the cheese cloth marks…you can’t taste them.

  3. 9-23

    Just saying the word cheese makes one smile.
    I absolutely love asiago cheese!
    Looking forward to seeing the continuing experiments in cheese.

  4. 9-23

    Cheese making sounds so interesting. However, since hubby doesn’t eat cheese as much the last few years due to cholesterol issues, I’d hate to make it just for me. I can get raw cow milk locally, too, darn it. And probably goat’s milk if I looked.

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