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Bel paese is a semi-soft Italian cheese noted for its smooth texture and buttery taste. It is a fairly modern cheese, created in the early 1900s by an Italian trying to make a new, simple cheese for local sale. It is a cow’s milk cheese and though it originated in Melzo, a village in the Lombardy region of Italy, it is now manufactured in Italy and the United States (US) and distributed around the world.
Similar in some ways to French Saint Paulin cheese, bel paese is also similar in texture and taste to German Butterkäse and havarti. All of these cheeses share a comparable buttery taste, and while soft enough to almost melt on the tongue, they are firm enough to slice for easy serving. The flavor and texture of bel paese has made it a favorite cheese for use in appetizers, often served with crackers or allowed to be tasted alone. It is also a common dessert cheese, sometimes served with a few pieces of fruit to allow the warm, buttery flavor of the cheese to contrast the sharp sweetness of grapes or melon.
Bel paese is a relatively simple cheese to produce, requiring only about two months to age properly. The name of the cheese comes from a book by the Italian geologist Antonio Stoppani titled Il Bel Paese, meaning “the beautiful country.” An image of Stoppani, along with a map of Italy, is typically used on the packaging of bel paese produced in Italy. American manufacturers tend to use a map of the US on the packaging, and this allows customers to easily distinguish an Italian product from the American one.
Since bel paese is a semi-soft cheese, it melts quite smoothly and is ideal for use in casseroles and cream sauces. It can also be used in place of mozzarella in making pizzas. Typically sold in relatively small discs, bel paese is cream colored with a slight yellow tint to it.
Bel paese has also become popular for serving during wine tastings or to accompany a glass of wine. The flavor of the cheese is often a fine accompaniment for somewhat fruity wines such as dry reds or whites. Similar to how it is served with dessert, this allows the flavor of the wine to stand out against the smooth, creamy texture and buttery flavor of the cheese.