What would a list of things we’re looking forward to in Polska be without oscypek — that smoky, dry, chewy sheep milk cheese that brought the European Union to its knees?
Sheep milk cheese? It does at first sound a little questionable, and the idea of milking sheep seems a little daft. But urban ignorance aside (after all, the “King of Cheese,” Roquefort, is made from sheep milk), it’s a wonderful tradition, which was the catalyst for much heated debate when Poland entered the EU.
Wikipedia gives the following regarding this Polish wonder, shedding a little light on why the EU had concerns:
Oscypek is made using exclusively salted sheep’s milk. Addition of cow’s milk is strictly regulated by protected trade name recipe. Unpasteurized salted sheep’s milk is first turned into cottage cheese. This is then repeatedly rinsed with boiling water and squeezed. After this, the mass is pressed into wooden, spindle-shaped forms in decorative shapes. The forms are then placed in a brine-filled barrel for a night or two, after which they are placed close to the roof in a special wooden hut and cured in hot smoke for up to 14 days.
The whole process traditionally takes place in a bacowka — a wooden hut where shepherds sleep and make their cheese. It is, in a word, dirty. So said the EU.
Additionally, it’s sold at open air booths (see example at Flickr), unwrapped. A vacuum-packed, sterlized version is available, but it’s relatively tasteless.
In twelve days, we’ll be on our way to piles of oscypek.