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Aug 08 2014

Polish Cheese from the Tatra Mountains

I am generally a fairly curious person but, for whatever reason, some things don’t seem to spark my interest to find out more.  This was the case a few weeks ago when I was in Krakow.  The Canadian woman I was travelling with, at the time, was feeling peckish and wanted a snack.  She saw something, but didn’t know what it was.  She tried asking the stall owner, but was unable to find out because of the language barrier.  She decided not to buy it and we moved on not knowing what it was.  I would probably have never known if I hadn’t continued my journey further south.

While in Zakopane, a couple of days later, I was walking through Oscypek Market.  I love wandering around markets, marveling at all the local products and produce.  There were lots of rather unusual-looking things, like those pictured below. The Polish girl I had met and was travelling with asked if I had tried any of the cheeses.  So, the woman at the stall in Krakow was selling cheese.  Now, I was interested because they were the strangest-looking cheeses I’d ever seen.  For that reason, Polish smoked cheese is this week’s Foto Friday.

Polish cheese

As you can see from the photo, they come in different shades (from almost white to dark brown), shapes, sizes, and designs.  The ones on the left, shaped a little like a spinning top, are called Oscypek. This cheese is made from salted sheep milk and is one of the specialties of the Tatra Mountains in Poland, which is where Zakopane is located.  The production of cheese in this area dates back to the 15th century and the first recorded recipe for Oscypek was in 1748.  Apparently, Oscypek is now a protected trade name under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin.

According to good old Wikipedia, unpasteurized milk is turned into cottage cheese first, then pressed into wooden moulds, which give the cheese its decorative shape. After that, it is placed in a brine-filled barrel for a night or two. Finally, it’s placed close to the roof in a special wooden hut and cured in hot smoke for up to 14 days.

Back in 2011, there was a discussion on TripAdvisor about whether Polish cheeses were suitable for vegetarians.  Someone mentioned that, by law, animal rennet is used in Polish cheese.  I assume that is still the case so, unless it is labelled as such, the cheese probably isn’t suitable for vegetarians.  That’s a real shame.

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Have your say

What’s the strangest cheese you’ve ever seen on your travels?  If you have any information on which Polish cheese is vegetarian, it would be really helpful if you could please let us know by leaving a comment below.  Thank you!

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

2 comments

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  1. Nanu Maria-Teodora

    I am Romanian and that Polish cheese is the best I have tasted in my life so far. The ones that are cut thinly are also good. I don’t think that that cheese is weird.

  2. Teresa Keane

    Hi Nanu.
    Yes, the cheese is good and I’m pleased you like it so much. I didn’t say it was weird, it just looked unusual when I first saw it because it didn’t look like any cheese I had ever seen before.
    Teresa.

  1. Discovering Szczawnica - Independent Travel Help

    […] time.  That’s the first time I’ve seen a sheep being milked.  They use that for the traditional cheese that is produced in southern Poland, Oscypek.  We even found a man who was in the process of making the cheese.  He was in a small wooden […]

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