What is Oscypek?
Oscypek (pronounced os-tseh-peck) is a traditional smoked cheese made of salted sheep milk hailing from the highland Tatra Podhale region of Poland.
Oscypek - how it's made.
This cheese is made with milk from a breed of sheep called Polish Mountain Sheep that roam the highland pastures in the Tatra Mountains. The cheese is produced from May to September during the sheep milking season. The shepherds who care for the sheep are known as górale and they rarely leave the mountains during the the season as the animals need to be milked three times per day.
The Process of Making Oscypek Cheese
The process begins with pouring the sheep milk through a linen cloth into a wooden bucket where dried rennet is added. The curdled substance is then squeezed from the whey and formed by hand into a spindle shape. The cheese is decorated by placing it in a beautifully carved wooden mold called an oscypiorka. The oscypek is then dipped in a brine and placed beneath the rood of the mountain hut that the shepherds reside in. The cheese is smoked by the cold smoke coming from a small fire within the hut.
The Special Cheese
In 2008, this cheese was protected under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin. This means that when purchasing oscypek you are guaranteed it is authentic and meets very specific requirements. If it does not, the cheese is simply called serki góralskie or Highlander cheese.
Traditionally this cheese is grilled and eaten with a side of lingonberry jam, but it is also often added to salad or pasta dishes. Cheese making in this region dates back to the 12th century though the first recorded recipe for oscypek dates to 1748 and it has remained unchanged since this time.
My favorite memory of eating this food was on my first visit to Poland. Damian and I were walking along the main street in Zakopane in early November. We stopped by a street vendor and purchased a small piece of oscypek z żurawiną (smoked cheese with cranberry jam). We stood over a bridge taking in the beautiful sights while indulging in this warm and tasty treat!
On another visit to Zakopane, Damian and I visited the Oscypek Museum, where we were able to learn about and watch the whole process from start to finish. We even had a chance to make our own! It was fascinating. Our tour was in Polish, but they also offer tours in English.
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