Oscypek cheese, the traditional Polish smoked cheese is an absolute must taste when you visit Polish mountains. It is made of salted sheep milk, produced in a traditional way in little shepherds’ huts, one of which we had the chance to visit on the week we spent in Zakopane. Polish Highlanders make it entirely by hand using only wooden tools.
We came across several local street vendors selling the Oscypek smoked cheese, and finally bought each, a couple of pieces mostly out of curiosity on my side, as Margo as a local had tasted it before. For the photo above, the lady selling it offered me her place for a few minutes. Telling you, it was not fun at all to be stuck behind the cheese when so many people are enjoying their stroll in the heart of Zakopane.
You can only find Oscypek in the region since it’s made in small quantities and is hard to export given regulations against unpasteurized sheep’s milk. It can only be sold under that name if done in a very specific way, but all the variations are worth trying. The authentic recipe dates back to the 14th century.
It can be manufactured only from May to September and has to be sold out until October. It has a shelf life of several weeks. This means that any cheese bought for example during the winter months is not Oscypek. It is called Gołka and it is cow’s milk, -smoked cheese again looking almost the same but it is very different to Oscypek in taste. Gołka is usually sold on Christmas markets around Poland but producers call it Oscypek. It is, of course, an international misuse of the name but finding sheep’s milk and produce Oscypek in this season is quite hard.
I wanted so much to find the truth about the popular Oscypek cheese specific cheese and I had the luck to get it from a local young lady I met on the bus on my way from Zakopane to Warsaw. “The majority of consumers are ignorant” the lady next to me on the bus states. People think they are buying the real thing when in fact it is just Gołka. She goes on and says that her own family and the majority of locals are well aware of this and never buy Oscypek in Zakopane especially in Krupówki as the media in Poland make a fuss about fake Oscypek at least once a year.
Even though Polish Highlanders fought for a long time to register the trade name of their local Oscypek cheese, now they don’t appreciate it and instead of protecting their regional delicacy, they sell cow’s cheese as Oscypek. Why? Because it’s cheaper to make cheese of cow’s milk of course, and tourists don’t mind – they just buy everything.
- Buy straight from local farmers
- The right season
Best way to eat
It can be eaten cold but tends to squeak against teeth. It is better to have it hot. The best way to consume this cheese is to put it in a pan with a lid and let it melt. The outside remains pretty firm and it can easily be removed from the pan. When you judge that it is ready, eat it with a scoop of cranberry jam. Believe me, it is worth giving it a try. I had it with no jam and it was still good.