Authentic Cheeses – Straight from the heart of Europe!


What makes an Authentic Cheese?
Authentic European food, in all its craveable forms, at best represents all that we seek when longing for a bowl of pasta served just-so, a sauce that’s simmered for hours or a protein served with simple but exquisite vegetables. Beyond the delicious taste and wholly satisfying experience, what is it about European food that strikes a deeper chord? Traditions surrounding farming, food production, and generational recipes are fundamental to the soul moving responses so many of us have to European foods.  In this article, we’ll be looking at a special group of hard and semi-hard cheeses under an organization titled AOP Agriform, specifically Parmigiano Reggiano PDO, Grana Padano PDO, Piave PDO, Montasio PDO, Asiago Fresco PDO, and Asiago Stagionato PDO.

Before turning specifically to these authentic and delicious cheeses, an understanding of certain distinctions is helpful. In the mid 1900’s, a food label was created to help combat an imitation market that grew out of the expanding international popularity of European food. Recognizable by its yellow and red seal (pictured right), the DOP label (that’s Denominazione di Origine Protetta in Italian, or PDO, Protected Designation of Origin in English) was created to authenticate foods in a specific way: that every step of the production process is carried out in a specific territory from start to finish. This legal protection trademark from the European Union depends specifically on which territory in which a food was produced, and every step of production, from animal feed to product packaging, is regulated.

The PDO  distinction is important for reasons reaching beyond the deliciousness of our food. In addition to the natural factors that are ensured in a PDO  designated product, the human factors of tradition, time-tested (often through generations) production techniques, craftsmanship and local economy are also protected. The PDO  label ensures reliability, traceability, and a link to a specific territory.

Many European foods may carry the IGP label (Protected Geographical Indication), which mandates that at least one of the stages of production be carried out in a specific geographical area. This label is recognizable by its blue and yellow seal, shown below.
Also keep a look out for the Enjoy It’s From Europe and Made with Amore labels, which connote the European Union’s approval of high quality agricultural products.
The Northeast region in Italy is home to many PDO  awarded cheeses. When considering that only about 53 out of over four-hundred cheeses produced in Italy are certified PDO, we can conclusively say that the cheeses from this area of Europe represent authenticity itself. If you are lucky enough to make a visit, it’s worth noting that TripAdvisor lists “visiting a local dairy” as a top outing throughout the area. Not least because it is a number of hard cheeses from this region that give many traditional dishes their distinctive flavor profile.

To begin connoisseurship of the many hard and semi-hard cheeses, it is useful to first generally understand hard cheese. Because of a long aging period, hard cheeses have very low water content and develop a strong taste and aroma. Technically speaking, moisture content for hard cheeses must be below 35%, and between 35% and 45% for semi-hard cheese.  In the NorthEast region of Italy, several dairies have come together to form AOP Agriform, whose cheeses today are a tentpole of PDO  hard cheeses. All of the cheeses in AOP Agriform’s portfolio are made with cow’s milk, some having been made with sheep’s milk in previous centuries.


The hard and semi-hard cheeses in AOP Agriform’s stable can be considered from an age perspective, e.g. the amount of time a given cheese is aged before being distributed for sale. Generally speaking, the longer a cheese is aged the sharper, more full-bodied taste it will have. Parmigiano Reggiano PDO has the longest aging period; a quick study of its production lends an understanding to most hard and semi-hard cheeses. A step by step process lends Parmigiano Reggiano its nuanced savory flavor.

Making Parmigiano Reggiano

  1. Cow’s milk is allowed to sit until the cream rises to the top. 
  2. The cream is skimmed off and the remaining milk is combined with whole milk.
  3. Rennet (a naturally occurring enzyme) is added to produce soft curds.
  4. The curds are cooked until they settle at the bottom of the cooking vessel.
  5. The mass made from the curds is removed from the liquid, cut, and put into wheel molds.
  6. The wheel soaks in a brining solution for 20-25 days.
  7. After brining, the wheels are stored in a maturing room for 1-3 years.
Garlic Parmesan Bread

The production of Grana Padano PDO harks back to the middle ages, where fresh milk was slow cooked and then supplemented with rennet and salt as a means of food preservation.  The hard cheese provided a way to preserve the nutritional value of milk.  The cheese quickly became known as Grana because of its typical grainy texture!  While the production technique of Grana was handed down through the ages, as with other special European foods a distinction became important.  Grana Padano PDO identifies a specific cheese hailing from a designated geographical area produced with specific ingredients and practices.  Due to its aging process, having  a minimum maturation period of nine months, Grana Padano PDO is naturally lactose free.  With a strong aroma and delicate flavor, Grana Padano PDO can be identified visually by its finely grained structure which breaks into slivers when cut.

Castelvetrano Olive & Pistachio Tapenade Crostini

Of the six main cheeses in the AOP Agriform portfolio, Piave PDO hails exclusively from one region within Veneto: the province of Belluno very near the Dolomite mountains. When you enjoy Piave PDO, imagine the craggy peaks and green pastures of this iconic area! 

The flavors in the five varieties of Piavo PDO become stronger over time.  Those varieties include: 

  • Piave PDO Fresco, with a predominantly milky flavor and notes of butter and yogurt, is aged for 20-60 days. 

  • Piave PDO Mezzano offers flavors of melted butter and whey, plus a subtle toasted note, and is also aged for 2-6 months.

  • Piave PDO Vecchio, with a crumbly texture and stronger toasted notes, is aged for over six months.

  • Piave PDO Vecchio Selezione Oro is more complex yet, with fruity, nutty flavors creating a sweet and savory balance.  Aged for over 12 months.

  • Piave PDO Vecchio Riserva clocks 18 months of aging, and is the hardest of the Piave varietes.  Spices to dried fruit create a sweet and savory balance with complex toasted notes.

Often compared to Piave PDO, Montasio PDO is a semi-hard cheese, the varieties of which are aged from 60 days to over ten months. Its name comes from the mountain range in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region north of Venice. Close your eyes and imagine a bustling center of commerce from early centuries as you are enjoying a cheese originating in the long-time center of global trade and commerce!

Melted Montasio Cheese Crostini With Mushrooms & Shaved Piave

Asiago was produced as early as the year 1000. Initially sheep's milk was used but with the spread of cattle farms, in the 1500s, cow's milk began to be used. Aged Asiago (Asiago Stagionato), is the oldest type of Asiago and is similar to the original cheese. It is made with partially skimmed milk and left to mature for a period ranging from 3 to 15 months minimum. With a delicate scent of almonds and dried hazelnuts, it has a strong and savory taste that is refined with aging enriching with slightly spicy notes.

Asiago Fresco PDO used to be called Asiago Pressato: Pressato means "pressed" because the pressing of the cheese is part of the production process.

It is notable for small, irregular holes (also known as eyes) throughout, and its medium texture. Great for melting, Asiago Fresco PDO is generally aged for a shorter period of time, starting with just 20 days. A fact that is revealed in the name, with Fresco being Italian for fresh!
Asiago, Prosciutto & Fig Crostini
Enjoy these and other delicious recipes, and remember to look for the PDO food logo!