Fontina and Asiago are two important Italian cheeses, and both are fortunate enough to carry a dual citizenship. Born in Italy –– fontina in the Piedmont, Asiago in the Veneto –– they have been successfully replicated in the United States by skillful cheesemakers in Calfornia and Wisconsin.
In Italy, fontina and Asiago are made using partially skimmed, unpasteurized cow’s milk. However, the taste characteristics are a bit different. Fontina (aka fontina d’Aosta) has a delicate yet somewhat earthy/herby flavor. Fontina-type cheeses are also sold under the name Fontinella.
Named after the village of Asiago in the northern Veneto, in the shadow of the Dolomites, Asiago is much milder in flavor. In Italy, though, Asiago can be purchased “fresco,” or young (aged two to three months); “mezzano” or semi-hard (aged three to five months); or “vecchio,” which is hard and sharp (aged nine months or longer). The taste goes from mild to sharp as the cheese ages.
The fontina and Asiago produced in this country, though made with part-skim milk, are excellent cheeses, but do not share the overall taste depth as that of their Italian counterparts. Having said, that, I am a big fan of American-made Asiago for a couple of reasons: It is readily available through food distributors, and it is a lot less expensive than the imported brands. The Asiago and fontina produced in this country is (generally) aged from two months to at least five months (Asiago leaning toward the longer ageing time).
In the U.S., the flavor of Asiago is quite close to that of a well-made provolone, which makes it a perfect cheese to use on a salad or as part of an antipasti. And I would employ fontina in the same way; however, these two cheeses have a lot more life in them that that. Fontina is an excellent melting cheese, so it works great in pasta dishes and in panini. Asiago, and some Fontinaellas that are semi-hard, can be used as a grating cheese. And either cheese can be cubed and served as part of an antipasto platter or on a fruit and cheese tray. Note, too, that some cheese producers sell Asiago as part of a shredded five-cheese blend, which really punches up the flavor of a signature pizza.
FETTUCCINE WITH FONTINA & ASIAGO
Serves 4 (can be scaled up in direct proportion)
3/4 pound fettuccine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup coarsely grated Asiago cheese
1 cup finely diced Fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until it is al dente. While the pasta is cooking melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. The pan should be large enough to hold all the pasta after it has been cooked. Add the cream, and bring to a steady simmer for 2 minutes.
Blend in the four cheeses. Cook and stir until the cheeses have melted into the cream. Add the cooked and well-drained pasta to the cheese sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve at once in heated pasta bowls.