Homemade Bel Paese Cheese

So, I returned from my week-end away to a refrigerator filled with milk, thanks to my wonderful husband who stepped in to milk while I was gone.  The full refrigerator was a sure sign that it is time to make cheese again. This time I decided to make Bel Paese, which mean "beautiful country" in Italian.  This cheese is very mild and sweet and best of all it is an easy starter cheese because it only requires one heating and no press or mold.

To start off, I partially skim the cream off the cream from my milk to get a little over 8 gallons of partially skimmed milk.

Next, after sanitizing my cheese vat, the thermometer, and stirring ladle, I pour all 8+ gallons of milk into the vat and set it to medium-high heat on my largest burner.  Until the milk is heated to 108 degrees Fahrenheit, I stir the milk every couple of minutes while checking the temperature.

When the milk gets to 108 degrees.  Turn off the heat and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of thermophilic culture over the top of the milk.  I get my cultures, rennet, and cheese making supplies from www.thecheesemaker.com and have found his prices to be spot on competitive.  He also has great turn around on products and wonderful customer service.

After the culture has moistened for a minute or two, I use the ladle to draw down the culture with up and down motions about 20 times to make sure it is fully incorporated into the milk.

For this recipe, I let the culture sit in the milk for 5 minutes with the cover on to maintain the 108 degrees in the milk.  Then stir the milk again and add in a 2 cups of water that has been mixed with 2 teaspoons of rennet.  I use a vegetarian rennet liquid because it works well for me every time.  Make sure to stir the rennet into the cultured milk really well, just like the culture had been stirred in, with about 20 up and down strokes, otherwise the cheese will not set properly.

Now cover the pot again and it sit for 30 minutes, maintaining the 108 degree temperature.  Just a note on maintaining temperature.  If you are making a small batch of cheese you will not be able to just turn off the heat and expect your cheese to maintain the same temperature unless your room is really warm.  But if you make a large batch with 8 gallons, it takes a long time for that heat to disburse.  I have found that making larger batches is just easier for me since I have so much milk on hand and temperature maintenance then is not a problem.

After 30 minutes, your cheese should have set and it should look like milk jello. 

With a sanitized knife, I then cut the curd into pieces.  And then let sit for 5 minutes more so the cubes harden up a bit more before I start stirring - this is the key to getting good curds.

Next, stir the curds on and off for 45 minutes while maintaining the 108 degree temperature then let the curds settle.

The curds should look like those in the picture below after the 45 minutes of stirring.

Now, scoop off as much whey as possible making sure to save as much as you will need for baking, soaking, fermenting, etc.

And then, with very clean hands, I scoop the curds out of the whey and put them into a stainer that has been sanitized.

Then, over the next 7 hours, every hour take the lump of curds and flip it over in the strainer while keeping the whole mass somewhat warm inside the cheese pot.  Make sure to drain the excess whey out of the bottom of the pot if it gets deep and starts touching the cheese.  This process should result in a well drained and textured cheese at the end of the 7 hours.

Next I make a brine (salted water mixed at about a 20% saturation) and soak the cheese on each side 3 hours for a total of 6 hours.

After soaking, I take the cheese out, place it on a sanitized mat and put in the refrigerator for a few hours to dry on each side. 


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