A Beautiful Country
and its cheese!
Yes, a beautiful country is a wonderful place to be anytime...
but for this month we are talking about a wonderful cheese
patterned after the Italian cheese 'Bel Paese',
which means beautiful country in Italian.
This cheese first grabbed my attention when seeing it everywhere in Italy as the essential table cheese. It is apparently the "go to" cheese for snacking in Italy. Yes, a very fresh cheese that goes well with everything it seems.
Loved by both young and old alike.
Although it always seems to be made by large scale commercial producers, I began to think of what it could become if made from really high quality milk by a small farm or by the home cheese maker.
I was not disappointed at all by that decision, as it turns out, because it's become another one of my real favorites here and a real star in my Italian workshops when we make it there.
is one of the best known and most popular of a group of uncooked, soft, sweet, mild and fast-ripened Italian table cheeses.
Cheeses with similar character and names like Konigskase, Bella Alpina, Bella Milano, Bel Piano Lombardo, Bel Piemonte Fior d'Alpe, Savoia, and Vittoria have been made throughout Italy, as well as in other European countries, under such names as Schonland and Fleur des Alpes.
A Bit of History:
Bel Paese is a fairly recently developed cheese, first created in 1906 by Egido Galbani in the region of Lombardi just outside Milan. It is still made by a company bearing his name. His intention was to produce a cheese with a soft and delicate flavor where the aroma and the flavor of the milk were to stand out. The Galbani Cheese Company is still one of the most prominent producers of the cheese today.
The cheese was named for a book written by Antonio Stoppani entitled "Il Bel Paese" in 1876 which particularly deals with the beauties of the Italian landscape and how it is effected by geology and geography.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is that the title has been taken as a common reference to Italy with both good and not so good connotations.
The naming of the cheese and its acceptance as one of the favorite cheeses in Italy fits in well with all of this I think.
If Italy has a national cheese, I think Bel Paese would be it, but then again the independent nature of Italians does not work like that. If you wonder at all, what I mean by this, look up the word 'Campanilismo', it will explain a lot about who the Italians are and why we love the Italians.
An image of Stoppani, along with a map of Italy, is typically used on the packaging of Bel Paese produced in Italy. American manufacturers had tended to use a map of the US on the packaging, and this allowed customers to easily distinguish an Italian product from the American one.
I have seen evidence of it being made in the USA (Patent info from 2011 links its license to Galbani in Italy) but have never seen the American version in stores.
In fact, one of my sources for developing this guide came from an April 1939 bulletin by the USDA entitled "A Soft Cheese of the Bel Paese Type".
In light of this, I find it odd that I have not seen an American version of Bel Paese.
Bel Paese is a semi-soft Italian cheese noted for its smooth texture and buttery taste. While similar to many of the other semi-soft cheeses like the French Saint Paulin, German Butterkase, and even Havarti, it does have a very different supple texture that results from its unique making procedure.
It has a very creamy buttery taste, but while soft enough to seemingly melt in your mouth, it is firm enough to slice at the table for serving.
Bel Paese cheese will go quite well with a few pieces of fruit allowing the warm, buttery flavor of the cheese to contrast the sharp sweetness of figs, melon, etc. It is also a cheese that melts smoothly for sauces and baked dishes and is often substituted for Mozzarella in baked dishes and Pizzas. I am sure you will find many more uses for this cheese as well.
Although this is a rather quick cheese to make and age, it has a very unusual aspect as part of the make procedure:
- It begins with the addition of both Mesophilic and Thermophilic culture combinations added at a much higher than normal temperature (102F)
- Then is increased to a temperature of 106-108F after just a short ripening time.
This very unusual higher temperature procedure is partially responsible for the firm texture in such a high moisture cheese as well as the elastic nature of the cheese.
You may be wondering why the Meso culture was even added , since as the milk temperature passes 102-104F, the Mesophilic culture will no longer play a part in the fermentation.
However, the enzymes that have been left behind by these Meso-bacteria will play an active role in the short aging life of the cheese.
The Thermophilic cultures will then be left to the task of converting the lactose to lactic acid and developing the proper acidification for this cheese.
Bel Paese is not traditionally waxed but is allowed to form a natural but light washed type rind, which is washed clean after a very short aging. The final cheese is then usually foil wrapped to prevent further mold growth and held at cold temperatures when ready for the table.
This was a very interesting recipe to work on in that:
- Bel Paese has an unusually low dose of culture, at a rate of about .25-.5% active culture addition, whereas most other similar cheeses require about 1-1.5% .
- It requires a rather complex combination of Mesophilic and Thermophilic cultures plus the Mesophilic are only active a short while until the high temperatures (>102F) kill them off.
- This is the highest temperatures at which the rennet is added (108F), of any cheeses I have made.
Once I had my motivation to do it established, I then had to look for source guides that seemed logical. The first one I found with good details was the 1936 pamphlet from the US Dept. of Agriculture on making a version of the cheese as mentioned above. I then received a great guide for making this from a friend of mine, Val Bines in the UK who has taught cheese making in England for many years. After using this info for a couple of cheeses, I felt that my results were in fact better than the mild cheeses I found in Italy and that making with both raw milk and pasteurized milks produced some very good cheese.
The difference I think is the fact that a hand made cheese that gets all of the TLC and attention to detail can easily improve on the mass produced cheese that I originally found.
A Guideline for making your own Bel Paese style cheese
|Although the cheese is normally made with pasteurized milk, it can certainly be made with a high quality raw milk.|
The guide I provide below however, will be for pasteurized milk.
If you would like to make your version with raw milk then decrease the culture amounts by about 40% and the rennet by 20-30%, depending on your specific milk. Yes!.. I make mine here often with raw milk.
Before you Begin:
You will need:
Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.
Acidifying and heating the milk:
Begin by heating the milk to 102F. It is best to do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water.
If you do this in a pot on the stove make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats
Once the milk is at 102F the culture can be added:
- 1/64 tsp of Geotrichum (its just a pinch)
- 1/16 tsp of MA011
- 1/32 tsp of MM100
- 1/16 tsp of TA060
I do believe I mentioned it was a low dose.
To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.
Allow the milk to ripen for 60 minutes.
During this time the press, draining cloth, molds and press area should be sanitized and readied for the final cheese.
Coagulation with rennet:
Once the culture has been allowed to undergo its initial ripening time, the milk is slowly heated to 108F in about 10 minutes.
Then add about 1/4tsp (1.25ml) of single strength liquid rennet.
The milk now needs to sit quiet for 20 minutes as the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. You should notice the milk beginning to thicken in about 8 minutes. The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period but It is OK if the temp drops a degree or so during this time.
Prior to cutting the curd, check for a clean break by splitting the curd with the flat blade of a knife. A good curd, ready to cut should show a nice even break with smooth sides. Whey will quickly fill the opening but if it is very milky, this indicates a weak curd. Wait another 3-5 minutes and check again before cutting.
Cutting curds and releasing the whey:
I find that a good curd size for cutting this cheese is about 3/8 inch. Begin the cut with vertical cuts made parallel to each other across the entire surface and then repeat at right angles until a checkerboard pattern has been made.
Next cut diagonally with the knife or spoon to achieve uniform pieces as best you can.
Once you have a pot of evenly cut curds, allow them to settle in the pot for about 3-5 minutes to help the surfaces heal and harden slightly. This will be a vey soft curd at this point.
Next , begin a very slow stir working from the bottom to the top.
Cooking the curds :
Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. This will be done by slowly continuing the gentle stirring motion while maintaining the 108F (if the curds have cooled bring them back to 108F).
The total time from cutting the curds until they need to be drained will be about 25-30 minutes but may be extended another 10 minutes if the curds seem too soft.
The final curds should be cooked well through and should be examined to make sure that enough moisture has been removed. A broken curd should be evenly firm throughout and the curds should have a slight resistance when pressed between the fingers.
When this point is reached the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey
Removing the whey:
To remove the whey, begin by carefully ladling the whey from above the curds, leaving about 2 inches above the curd mass.
Then pull the curd mass to one side of the pot to form a consolidated mass. I find it easiest to use a piece of Ricki's 'Ripening Mat Medium Mesh' for this. A little hand pressure will work well to consolidate it into a compact ball. Then collect the curd mass in the Butter muslin as shown below.
The cloth with the collected curd mass can now be transferred to the mold which should have been sanitized and arranged previously.
The collected curd in its cloth should be pressed into the mold, the cloth neatly folded over the top and the follower placed on top, then an initial firm hand pressure as shown below should begin to set the initial cheese surface. The curd is still quite warm at this point and should come together with little trouble.
After a few minutes the curd mass should be lightly set and removed from the press. It is ready to be opened, turned and rewrapped as before but this time add a weight of about 5-8 lbs (the bowl of water shown below). Make sure the cloth is pulled up well and smoothed around the cheese to form as smooth a surface as possible. Only a very light weight needs to be used here.
Note: It is very important to keep the cheese warm during the pressing cycle described here because the bacteria is still actively converting lactose to lactic acid. 80-85F is ideal.
Note the light weight used here and how the surface becomes smoother with each successive turning and rewrapping of the young cheese.
As much care as possible should be taken to assure a smooth surface. This will make the aging and surface development go much smoother resulting in a very nice looking cheese to show for it.
Normally the unwrapping, turning, and repress cycle should be repeated about 5 times within the first 30-40 minutes after molding the cheese.
Once a firm surface has developed (within an hour or two), the weight can be removed and the cheese can be returned to the mold. Remember to develop as smooth a surface as possible and keep the resting cheese warm.
The cheese should be ready for brining within about 6-7 hours of cutting the curds.
You should have a saturated brine prepared for salting this cheese.
You will find all of the details you need on brining here.
A simple brine formula is:
1 Gallon of water to which is added 2.25 Lbs of Salt, 1tbs. Calcium Chloride (30% solution), and 1 tsp. white vinegar.
The cheese now needs to be set in the brine for about 1-1.25 hours per pound of cheese.
The cheese will float above the brine surface so sprinkle another teaspoon or 2 of salt on the top surface of the cheese.
Flip the cheese and re-salt the surface about half way through the brine period.
At the end of the brine bath, wipe the surface and allow the cheese to surface dry for a day or two before aging. The surface will darken somewhat during this time.
The cheese is now ready for aging.
The cheese can then be placed into your aging space at 52-56F and 90-95% moisture. I find a covered container works best for holding the moisture.
In about 5-8 days the surface will develop a greasy condition caused by yeast (natural from environs) which will dominate the surface. When this develops use a light brine wash (3-6% .. 1-2 tbs. salt to 1 cup cool water ) every 3-5 days for 3 weeks. A thin rind cover will develop as a dusty white surface and when suitably covered, wash off with 5% brine, then dry and wrap in waxed paper and store @ 40ºF for another 2-3 weeks until ripe.
Happy Cheese Making
a Happy and Prosperous 2015