Sunday, February 2, 2020

Oscypek - Polish Smoked Sheep Cheese

While driving from Krakow, Poland south to Zakopane, near the border with Slovakia, we passed an area in the foothills of the mountains full of green pastures, sheep and little wood buildings. Our guide stopped at one and we walked into a tiny shop full of cheese that was multi-hued shades of yellow. There was a small taster's table lined with each color of cheese and bite-sized bits of each one to sample. 

It was very salty, mostly too salty for me, which is saying something because I like salt. Ironically, Judy who criticizes me for over-salting my food, liked it better than I did and insisted on buying some (I think we forgot it in one of our hotel rooms).  

The proprietor took us to a small wood shed near the tiny shop and opened the door. Strong smelling smoke wafted out and two layers of iron grates contained cheese being smoked. 

Oscypek is smoked cheese made from salted sheep milk in the Tatra Mountains (the mountains that form the border between Poland and Slovakia and part of the larger Carpathian Mountains). It is protected under EU law and can only be produced in a couple of counties in southern Poland. It must be made from at least 60% sheep milk and can only be produced between late April and early October when the sheep are feeding on fresh mountain grass. The sheep's milk is salted, then heated, then rennet is added and stirred until it gets lumpy, then repeatedly rinsed with boiling water and squeezed. It is then pressed into wooden decorative shapes (the wood is sycamore - the only wood that doesn't impact the taste of the cheese) and placed in a brine-filled barrel for one or two nights, then placed in a wooden hut, close to the roof, and cured in hot pine or spruce wood smoke for up to 14 days. 

BBC Travel, "Poland's surprisingly beautiful cheese" notes that it comes "in three sizes: small (which are oval), medium (shaped like a barrel), and big (shaped like a spindle, and the only size protected by the EU)." 

We saw and tasted the barrel shaped medium size outside of Zakopane. Later that day, when we got back to Krakow, we went to a small market in Old Town next to St. Mary's Church. We ordered two of the small oval sized cheeses that were being grilled. One was wrapped in bacon. I liked it much better warm, and of course, anything tastes better with bacon. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm still stunned that you thought it was too salty. When does that EVER happen? While we were there, I kept thinking of our driver in Morocco who had never heard of sheep cheese and refused to believe it was possible to milk a sheep. He needs to travel to Poland.