“Say cheese, everyone!”
Here comes the ultimate ingredient to make you smile! Cheese is undoubtedly one of the most admirable delicacies, eaten by (almost) everyone with great gusto. And it’s a simple pleasure to stimulate all the senses: it catches the eye, caresses our fingers, and tantalises the tongue. Even when it’s nasty on the nostrils. For better or worse, Europe’s cheeses are the very embodiment of the continent’s diversity. After all, wasn’t it former French President Charles De Gaulle who famously complained that you can’t govern “a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese”? The culture is more than bacterial: the dairy product is mentioned as far back as Homer’s Odyssey, and in some places dates back to the Bronze Age (though maybe give that one a sniff before serving…). From the posh pule to the common-or-garden cheddar, smoked or spicy, rounded or rinded, runny or rennet, the memory of the mammary in Slovenia or a holey Swiss affair, this delicacy is prepared and eaten every which whey. So join us on our brie-lliant tour to sort the sheep from the goats’, and together we’ll make Europe grate again!
Serra da Estrela
The history of Serra da Estrela cheese, which has been recorded since the 16th century, is closely connected with the history of mountain towns, shepherds and mountain life. With a buttery or dry dough, yellow colour and intense flavour, Serra da Estrela cheese is made exclusively with milk from the Bordaleira breed of sheep. Even when runny, it’s never sloppy: the production of this delicious cheese has to follow rigorous rules. Mostly made between November and March, it needs to mature for at least thirty days. The texture of the paste varies depending on age, from a very soft semi-liquid when young, to a soft but sliceable solid when older. You should definitely try it: it’s delicious with a piece of bread.
La Mancha region in Spain is home not only to literary hero Don Quixote, but also to Spain’s equally legendary cheese. Manchego is to Spain what cheddar is to England, favoured by connoisseurs and novices alike. Made from the milk of Manchego sheep, which graze on the plains of south central Spain, its texture and flavor vary massively depending on how long it has been aged, from a salty and smooth semi curado to a crystallized and spicy curado. It is often served all on its lonesome in thin triangles, allowing the pure flavor of this storied cheese to shine. History lovers note: it is believed that cheese similar to modern-day Manchego has been produced in this region from the same race of sheep since the Bronze Age. Thousands of years later, Manchego has become easily the most famous Spanish cheese both within the country and abroad.
Back in the old days, an exasperated Charles De Gaulle complained about the difficulty of the French Presidency: “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?”. He was not totally wrong: France is home of a great variety of cheeses and is often portrayed as the “nation of stinky cheeses”. So let’s face it: picking just one is fraught with controversy. To avoid trouble with the Corsican or Basque mafia, I’ll opt for the most obvious consensus choice: the Camembert – the famously soft, creamy cow’s milk cheese. Originally from Normandy, the Camembert is actually made of the catchily-named ingredients diacetyl, 3-methylbutanal, methional, 1-octen-3-ol and 1-octen-3-one, phenethyl acetate, 2-undecanone, δ-decalactone, butyric acid, and isovaleric acid… Well, if you are no scientist: just taste it with a piece of French baguette, it’s delicieux!
With a population just over 300,000, Iceland consumes more cheese, butter, and milk than other western nation. Icelanders enjoy in particular Skyr, a kind of mildly-flavored strained yoghurt. Skyr was brought from Norway to Iceland more than 1100 years ago, and though the tradition died out in most of Scandinavia, it lived on in Icelandic culture where it is traditionally served cold with milk and a topping of sugar. Skyr is mentioned in a number of mediaeval Icelandic sources, including the separate Sagas of Egil and Grettis. It may be used in a traditional Icelandic dish called hræringur (meaning “stirred” or “made by stirring”) which consists of roughly equal amounts of skyr and porridge. It is often mixed with jam or fruit for a dessert, with prepared fish for dinner, or with cereals for breakfast.
Could you name me a cheese which bears the name of a city but actually comes from another? I bet you can see what’s coming… The Dubliner cheese is named after the city of Dublin, although it is ironically made in Cork. Ireland’s favourite cheese combines the sharpness of mature Cheddar with the buttery sweetness of Parmigiano. As opposed to a sharp cheddar, Dubliner is matured for 12 months; it has a hard texture, and a robust flavor somewhat sweet, somewhat nutty – a diversity of tastes that could only come from a natural cheese made from the milk of grass-fed cows. Renowned for its high quality dairy sector, pristine grazing lands and clean air, Ireland is a natural destination for top notch cheesemaking.
This is probably the most popular cheese in the world; and, in the UK, accounts for 51% of the market. This relatively hard, off-white or orange, sometimes sharp-tasting cheese originated in Somerset around the late 12th Century and took its name from the caves in the town of Cheddar that the product was stored in. Don’t tell the Brits, but it is said that Romans may have brought the recipe to the island from the Cantal region of France. Zut alors! The ideal quality of the original Somerset cheddar was described by Joseph Harding in 1864 as “close and firm in texture, yet mellow in character or quality; it is rich with a tendency to melt in the mouth, the flavour full and fine, approaching to that of a hazelnut”. Back in the day, it’s said US President Andrew Jackson once held an open house party at the White House at which he served a 640-kg block of Cheddar cheese. Something to get your teeth into.
What can you eat to keep you warm amid the fjords, served in thin slice on rye toast or crisp bread? Some Norwegian Brunost, of course! It is a sweet, dense brown whey cheese which gets its colour and fudge-like texture from the slow simmering process which allows the milk sugars to caramelise. A low-fat variant is made by increasing the proportion of whey to milk and cream. To the uninitiated, the taste of Brunost can come as quite a shock. It has a slightly salty and surprisingly sweet flavour – with just a hint of goat. Brunost has been made in Norway for centuries and like most traditional Norwegian food it harks back to a time when the country was relatively poor. Usually the whey is thought of as a by-product of cheesemaking proper, and not for human consumption on its own, but the wily Norwegians found good use for it: not least as another welcome source of protein.
Even the name of this cheese is a mouthful! Hard to say at the best of times – still less while you’re having a taste – Västerbottensost, named after the Västerbotten region of Sweden, is a hard cow’s milk cheese with tiny eyes or holes and a firm, granular texture. Many Swedish people consider it the king of cheeses and demand for it has often outstripped the limited supply. For this reason, it is roughly twice as expensive as other types of aged cheese. According to one light-hearted legend, Västerbotten cheese was invented in the 1870s by a dairy maid, Eleonora Lindström. It is said that she was left alone to stir the curd of a traditional cheese but was interrupted by her lover. Today, the amorous interruption is entirely optional – but the alternating periods of heating and stirring of the curdling milk are essential, producing a Västerbottensost anyone would have the hots for.
It squeaks in the mouth when you chew it! That’s actually what it’s called in English – the Finnish squeaky cheese. Leipäjuusto is a very mild, almost bland fresh cheese made from a cow’s beestings – the rich milk from an animal that recently calved. It can be made also from reindeer or even goat’s milk. Finns love to serve it with coffee and pineapple, or cut into several pieces and put in a mug onto which they pour coffee. Alternatively, they put a chunk of it on bread with dill pickles and ham on top. The cheese is called ‘Leipäjuusto‘ (bread cheese) or ‘Juustoleipa‘ (cheese bread) since it is ‘toasted’ during its preparation. It generally contains about 20 to 22% milk fat while today’s lighter versions contain about 12%. Traditionally, people used to let leipäjuusto dry out completely, at which point it can be stored for several years.
Erm… “Danablu”… “Danablu”… What a strange name for a very popular and wonderful cheese! The name is, logically enough, merely short for ‘Danish Blue Cheese’, a contraction cannily coined by its creator, cheese pioneer Hanne Nielsen, who established a cheese production plant in the 1850s and set out to make the first Danish blue cheese inspired by the French Roquefort. Over a ten year period he experimented with bread moulds and milk homogenisation and – in 1874 – eventually struck gold. Or, rather, struck blue. He ended up with a uniquely Danish blue cheese – smooth, creamy, not so crumbly that it could not be cut. His Danablu has a beautiful appearance with regular blue-green veining throughout the milk-white paste. The taste is buttery, tangy and salty, though without as sharp a flavour as Roquefort or Gorgonzola.
You’re likely to find Gouda cheese on the menu in the Netherlands morning, noon and night. Gouda is the most popular cheese exported by the Netherlands, and is known for its mild, almost sweet flavour. It is also one of the most popular and versatile cheeses worldwide, named after the town of Gouda in southern Holland – one of those towns which, in the Middle Ages, gained exclusive rights to cheese weighing and selling. Just to get things straight, Gouda is not pronounced “goo-da”. The Dutch “g” is a tricky beast: it’s a guttural sound much like clearing your throat (I know – delightful); or, if that’s not quite working, replace the guttural “g” with a softer “h”. For the “ou,” think “Ouw! I stubbed my toe.” The “da” is straightforward. Now try it all together: “(G)h-ouw-da!”. (Preferably after you swallow).
Wallonia has maintained traditional cheese production practices throughout the ages. It was monks who greatly contributed to the special character of Belgian cheese: for which, as for Belgian beer, they were renowned artisans. In the medieval times monks and nuns developed products to nourish themselves as well as sell them to sustain the monasteries. Since most of them raised their own cows, goats and sheep, cheese was an obvious place to start. Most, though not all, were a soft or semi-soft cow’s milk cheese washed or rubbed with brine or alcohol. The flavours of the real thing are pungent, though the factory imitations tend to be quite mild and bland. Maredsous Abbey has been making the cheese since 1953; it is matured in the abbey cellars under an even temperature of 12 °C.
Smile and say “Käse”! The cheese loving Teutons tend to eat many different sorts of cheese from all over Europe. But if you are looking for a genuine German cheese, just titillate your tastebuds with some Tilsiter. This is one of Germany’s native cheeses from the former province of East Prussia. It was created in the mid-19th century by Prussian-Swiss settlers, the Westphal family, from the Emmental valley. They didn’t have the exact same ingredients as they used back home, and the cheese became colonised by different moulds, yeasts, and bacteria in the humid climate – resulting in a cheese more intense and full-flavoured. Mainly produced in northern Germany, Tilsiter has a medium-firm texture with irregular holes or cracks, a moist and creamy texture and a mild taste with a distinctive tang. Some brands of Tilsiter are produced with herbs, pepper and caraway seeds.
The family of Bergkäse, or “mountain cheeses”, enjoy one crucial benefit: the cows that spend their summers on Europe’s alpine pastures. Each Austrian region offers its own specialities, which are often based upon century-old recipes and have been adapted to suit the spirit of the times. Semi-hard cheese is the cheese style that features in most cheese types. The choice ranges from soft through to firm, from aromatic through to mild. Semi-hard cheese has centuries of tradition in Austria. As a result manufacturing is widespread throughout the country and often has a strong regional base. This is reflected in the names of the cheese; specialities such as Dachsteiner, Arlberger or Gmundner Bergkäse are to be found here. Semi-hard cheeses are evenly ripened cheeses with a firm, smooth consistency and small slit- or grain-shaped eyes, or a broken eye formation, depending upon the breaking strength of the cheese.
What else? This is obviously a very popular cheese – one of the best from Switzerland – and one you are sure to enjoy! Among the rich variety of Swiss cheese, we couldn’t obviously pick any other cheese, whose name comes from the valley of the Emme in the canton of Berne. It has been produced there since the 13th century – and each kilo needs approximately twelve litres of milk. The most typical characteristic of Emmentaler is probably its holes. They are the size of cherries or nuts, and appear during the maturing process. The diameter of the wheel is between 80 to 100 cm, its height is 16 to 27 cm and it weighs from 75 to 120 kg. Its authenticity, its character and its excellent quality make it the uncontested “King of the world’s cheeses”. Well, uncontested by any Swiss patrtios,
This is without doubt the “King of all cheeses”, as the Italians soberly put it! Besides its delicious creamy taste, the origins of the Parmigiano reggiano are worth a story. It began in Emilia Romagna a long time ago: production dates back to the 12th century, when Benedictine monks living in the area produced large quantities of milk and needed to find a way to preserve it. They began to handcraft a large, hard cheese whose peculiarity was that, the more it aged, the more its taste and smell improved. Nine centuries later, Parmigiano Reggiano is still produced in the same area using the same technique. It’s said that French playwright Molière, seeking to prolong his life, decided to live on 12 ounces of Parmesan and three glasses of port a day. While this fad diet never really caught on, it may have had some merit from a nutritional standpoint: Parmigiano Reggiano is rich in protein and easy to digest.
What is small, round, salty, and made from Maltese sheep? You got it: it’s the famous Ġbejna, the Maltese cheese par excellence! It’s actually so important in Maltese culinary culture that most of sheep’s milk produced in Malta is used for the production of these tiny cheeses. Milk in Malta was traditionally sold by milking goats on the streets and sold immediately. The unpasteurised milk sold was one of the causes of the spread of Brucellosis (“Deni Irqiq” or “The Maltese Fever”) in the late 19th to the early 20th century. But David Bruce and Sir Themistocles Zammit are credited in stopping the pandemic by improving their beloved cheese. Ġbejna is shaped in a cheese hurdle traditionally made of dried reeds, although now plastic ones are also used, and dried in small ventilated rooms, with windows protected by a special meshed mosquito net. It is said that, in the past, sea water, rather than rennet, was used as a curdling agent. The cheese is now available from both pasteurised and unpasteurised milk.
First, you’ll have to pronounce it; then you’ll have to learn to like the taste… Depending on how you feel about the sharp tang, Olomoucké sýrečky cheeses, also known as Olomoucké tvarůžky, are either detested or beloved. As an important and unavoidable part of Czech cuisine, the fetid cheese is known for its strong, some may say pungent, some may even say revolting, aroma. The first written mention of this cheese dates back to the 15th century, when Olomoucké sýrečky was eaten by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Until the 19th century, it was produced in the villages surrounding Olomouc, but was largely regarded as peasant food. The cheese can be eaten fresh, or battered and fried. It is recommended as a good accompaniment to beer. It is made from skimmed cow’s milk without rennet, colourings, flavourings or stabilisers: and – slimmers take note – is very low in fat.
The word may sound Slovakian, but the name Bryndza actually comes from Wallachian and is the Romanian word for ‘cheese’. While most of the world’s cheese is made from cow’s milk, Bryndza comes from sheep. It is very popular in several mountainous countries of Eastern Europe, especially Slovakia and Poland. The texture, flavour and colour of Bryndza depend on how it is made or prepared. When made directly with salt, the cheese is crumbly; but some producers add saline solution instead, which makes the texture soft and spreadable. In any case, it is white to grey in colour, tangy in taste and slightly moist. Bryndza is the main ingredient in bryndzové halušky, the national favourite of Slovakia. If you’re into sheep’s milk cheese, this one is for you!
Are you looking for a decorative, traditional, spindle-shaped smoked sheep’s cheese? The Polish Oscypek is made for you! It’s a genuine European product: Oscypek has been produced in the Tatra mountains since the fourteenth century, when farmers from the southern Romanian province of Walachia imported dairy farming to the Polish part of the Carpathians. The most notable aspect of these smoked, hard cheeses is their shape, spindle-like with a decorative band impressed into the circumference. To give the cheese this unusual form, the cheesemaker works the curd slowly between his skilled hands, adding warm water occasionally to keep the curd soft. The cheeses differ in the ratio of their ingredients, the exact process follows, and the characteristics of the final product. If you’re going to Poland for a trip, bear in mind that Oscypek is a traditional holiday cheese in many European countries.
Lithuania has been famous for delicious dairy products for a long time: but the white Varškės sūris won’t be found anywhere else. It is made from sour milk – which is heated, with the curd then placed into triangular bags and pressed with a special cheese press. Lithuanians sometimes add caraway or poppy seeds to these white delicacies, and almost always add salt, to make them even more delicious. Regarded as a healthy, diet food, white cheese is not only eaten with homemade bread, but also goes well with honey, and a variety of berry jams. If you can’t eat all of it, it can be dried – again, it’s pretty unusual, but a really great snack. It is believed that the production of curd cheese in the country dates back to the Middle Ages. Outside Lithuania, you can find the authentic curd cheese in Lithuanian or most Eastern European ethnic food stores.
As one blogger puts it, “Cheese in Latvia is like the weather in the UK. Mostly slightly bland, often a little disappointing, but every so often it’s truly wonderful and you forget all the bad experiences, even if it is just for a day or two”. So if you want to discover a true Latvian cheese, you should opt for Jāņi – a sour milk cheese, traditionally eaten on Jāņi, the Latvian celebration of the summer solstice. The cheese is made by heating whole milk, adding quark, and then cooking the mixture until fluffy curds separate from a clear whey. The whey is discarded when the cheese mass reaches a temperature of 72–77 °C. At this point, the curds are placed into a skillet or cooking pan, and stirred with a traditional mixture of egg, butter, salt, and caraway seeds. Generally, the cheese is prepared a few days before being eaten, having been allowed to ripen in a cool place.
Every European country has its own version of Quark. But in Estonia, Kohupiim, or milk curd cheese, is very popular in various forms. They are cheese curd product with a mild flavor which is drained but not pressed and therefore still contains some whey. You can buy it plain, or seasoned with vanilla or studded with raisins. Children adore chocolate covered curd cheese bars – a good source of milk proteins. In general, curd is an important ingredient in estonian kitchen and sõir, a traditional food mainly from the sothern parts of the country, is one of the best things you can do with curd. Apart from kohuke, the dessert that would make you run amock, sõir is a cheese-like substance, that contains the best you can get out of milk products – ferments, protein, smoothe, creamy texture. You can serve it just as a snack or cut for thin slices and put on the bread.
The main dairy products in Belarus include a kind of fresh white cheese called “тварог” and sour cream called “смятана“, widely used both in cooking and as a garnish. Belarusians had to wait until only mid-19th century to experience fermented cheese borrowed from the Netherlands and Switzerland, and the local version of Edam was very popular for decades in the Russian Empire. But if we had to name one cheese in particular from Belarus, we should opt for the Klinkovy cottage cheese. Traditionally, farmer cheese was made at home from curdled sour milk placed to drain in a wedge-shaped cheesecloth bag under a press. Since this kind of gauze-like bag is known as klinok in Belarusian, wedge-shaped cheese is called klinkovy. Such cheese can be sour, sweet, or flavoured with caraway seeds. Historically, cheese was almost always dried.
Yes, I know, this is not exactly a cheese as you would normally know it. But who am I to define the terms of membership for the great family of European cheese? And this one is certainly made from cheese – as well as being derived from the Ukrainian word сир, meaning – you guessed it – “cheese”. So no reason to complain! Syrniki are actually made from cream cheese, mixed with flour, eggs, and sugar, sometimes adding vanilla extract. The soft mixture is shaped into cakes, which are fried, generally in vegetable oil. The outside becomes crisp, and the centre is warm and creamy. They are sweet and served for breakfast or dessert. Their simplicity and delicious taste have made them very popular in eastern Europe. Simple but delicious!
You will love this traditional and yummy Romanian cheese made from sheep’s milk! Sharing similarities to Feta, Telemea is a soft, white cheese with a creamy texture and tangy aftertaste. When put through an ageing process, it becomes crisper and more flavoured. It is used as a table cheese for snacks, in salads and in a variety of dishes. As Telemea is stored in brine, it gets saltier with age. The cheese-making technique – and the tools – follows the olden times rules . The ripening period of the cheese is an important step which concludes the manufacturing process and runs for at least 20 days. The cheese was originally produced only in Romania, until the Vlach population started spreading beyond their native country. Since 2005, the name Telemea is a protected designation of origin.
It has a strong smell and taste… but what did you expect? We are talking about cheeses here! Bryndza is white, tangy, crumbly and slightly moist. It has characteristic odour and flavour with a notable taste of butyric acid. The overall flavour sensation begins slightly mild, then goes strong and finally fades to a salty finish… a taste sensation! The word Bryndza was first recorded as brençe, described as “Vlach cheese”, in the Croatian port of Dubrovnik in 1370. Bryndza was first recorded in Kingdom of Hungary, in 1470 and in the adjacent Polish Podhale in 1527. The modern version of the soft spreadable bryndza is believed to have been developed in Western Slovakia toward the end of the 18th century and popularised all around the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy. Genuinely European, it’s latterday Erasmus student of dairy.
This is quite probably the most popular cheese in Hungary. Made by Trappist monks, it is mild in flavour and melts easily. The origins of the cheese can be traced back to the 18th century monks of the French Notre Dame de Port-du-Salut abbey. The secret recipe found its way to Hungary through the Bosnian Mariastern monastery. The original French recipe is still manufactured today, under the trademark name of Port-Salut. Trappista cheese is a pale yellowish colour and has 3–5 mm, sparsely distributed, holes. It typically comes packaged in red plastic foil, regardless of the manufacturer. Typical packaging sizes include 1.5 kg large and 1/2 kg small “wheels”, as well as various slices and “bricks”. This cheese is best consumed with fruits, wine, or as a melted topping on hot vegetable or meat. It can be eaten as is, in sandwiches or incorporated into recipes like the Hungarian ham croissants known as Sonkás Kifli.
This is maybe the most romantic cheese on this list. Romantic, verging on creepy. Trnič is a pear-shaped hard cheese made in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps which resembles… a lady’s breast. It is made of cottage cheese, cream and salt and is embellished with special decorations. Due to its special natural flavour, grated Trnič is perfect for varying the flavours of different dishes, even desserts. According to tradition, the shepherds gave Trnič to their wives and girlfriends at the end of the pasture season in autumn as a sign of love and faithfulness, and also as a promise of marriage. If the girl accepted the cheese, it meant that she consented to the shepherd’s courtship. Trnič was thus an expression of a man’s love, desire and admiration of a girl and also their commitment to be faithful to each other. Some offer flowers or rings, Slovenians offer cheeses…
One of the most well-known cheeses from the Croatian Island of Pag, Paški sir is produced from a unique breed of small sheep, Paska Ovca – known for their intensely salty and limited milk output. Since Croatia doesn’t allow the production of animal rennet, Paški sir is made with the help of microbial rennet, thus making it a vegetarian cheese. Until early in the 20th century, the inhabitants of Pag had their own dry stone huts in which they milked the sheep and made Pag cheese. These stone houses are adorned in sedge and reeds from the nearby fields, the huts were built out of town on the rocky hills above the pastures. Over time, Paškisir slowly but surely gained importance not only as a food for the locals but also as a commodity to market across Croatia, thus Paški sir became an important source of income for the villagers. Paški sir tastes best when served with fresh fruit such as grapes, prosciutto, wildflower honey or olive oil. Bon Appétit!
Get out your wallets: it’s time to be introduced to the world’s most expensive cheese! A distinctive product of Serbian cuisine, pule reportedly fetches 1,000 euros per kilogram. It is so expensive because of its rarity: there are only about 100 female donkeys in the strain of Balkan donkeys that are milked for pule-making; each can be hand-milked three times a day. It takes 25 litres of milk to create one kilogram of cheese, and the cheese is then smoked. To put that in perspective, one kilogram of cheddar needs just 9.5 litres of milk (which cost around 30p each). Price tag and rarity aside, the key thing about this cheese are the supposed health benefits that are attached to it. It’s exceptionally high in protein, calcium and omega 3 fatty acids – all crucial for maintaining good cardiovascular health. It also contains anti-allergenics and has 60 times more vitamin C than cows’ milk.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Livanjski sir is the most famous cheese and the top selling product from one of the main cheese producers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Livanjski sir was first produced in the 19th century in the area of Livno, on the basis of French technology of making the Gruyère cheese. Originally, it was made from sheep’s milk and nowadays it is mainly made from a mixture of sheep’s and cow’s milk. Its maturation period is between 60 and 66 days in a controlled environment. The flavor is robust, and in more aged cheeses the taste is slightly tangy. It has a regular shape, mostly cylindrical. In cheese that is not fully matured, the skin is thin, typically light yellow that cannot be found in other Bosnian cheeses. This is something that the manufactures are very proud of. Cheese paste is also yellow, featuring small irregular holes after which the Livanjski sir has been nicknamed “Balkan Emmental.”
Montenegro is maybe a small country. But it’s home to an incredible cheese : the Njeguški sir. This cheese, made solely in the area around Njeguši, is a genuine contribution to Montenegrin cuisine. It is kept in oil in airy places up to 3 months before consumption. Dried and rich in milk fats, it’s simply exquisite. With its altitude of around 900m by the sea, Njegusi has a remarkable air where the two climates intersect. It is also an almost untouched virgin area without any industry, the cradle of the people who bear the name and with a significant role in history, giving prominent bishops and rulers to the Montenegrin state. The natural environment (the quality of land, pastures, communes and water) determined the basic occupation of the area as agriculture and livestock farming. Every piece of land was farmed carefully. Houses were built at the sides and edges as there was constant struggle to tear off as much farming land as possible from stone.
Шарски сир (Šarski sir)
Šar cheese is a Tsar cheese in Kosovo! The hallmarks of this cheese, made in the Šar Mountains of Kosovo, are its saltiness, and the fact that it is a treat for any time of the day or year. It is made of sheep and cow milk and usually added to salads and main dishes, pitas, served with bread or eaten alone. The tradition of producing Šar cheese has been passed on to generations for centuries. By the 1890s, the cheese became popular; the Serbian newspaper Carigradski glasnik of 28 July 1901 said that the cheese had overwhelmed the neighbouring markets because of its yellow fatty look and taste which had not been seen in other cheeses. Traditionally, Šar cheese was produced on sheep milk. Another reason why sheep milk was usually used was because cows were not able to climb the highland and reach the favorite grass and herbs which give Šar cheese its main characteristics. In Kosovo, quantities of Šar cheese consumed per month vary from 2-3 to 10 kg!
We can’t say if Albanians are the most smiley people in the world, but what we can certainly affirm is that they do love good cheese. They even consume about 11.5 kg cheese per capita per year! Some argue that Kaçkavalli has been produced since 1800. Cham Albanians are thought to have been the first to bring over from Greece to the south of the country, the tradition of making feta and Kaçkavalli. It is a type of yellow cheese made of cow milk, sheep milk, or both and can be found in Albania, Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Romania. The name Kaçkavalli comes from Latin caseus (cheese) and caballus (horse). The widely accepted explanation of the word “cavallo” (horse in English) comes from the cheese being traditionally dried by attaching two gourd shaped balls of caciocavallo with a single rope and hanging them to a wooden pole as if placed on a horse’s back.
Bulgarian white cheese is a variety of feta cheese. The unique taste of sirene is due to a specific lactose tolerant bacteria which converts the milk into yoghurt and then to cheese. In general, Bulgarian sirene is brined goat, sheep, or cow cheese and can be enjoyed as a side dish or as a part in other meals. It is soft, wet, and crumbly with a fat content of about 44-48%. It has a slightly grainy texture with a fresh lemony taste. This tasty cheese is served with soups and salads, as a table cheese and also used in baking. It originated on the Balkan Peninsula in a region called Trakia, which is the current day Southern Bulgaria. Used in many traditional Bulgarian dishes, this cheese is well worth trying and is exceptionally cheap to buy, so next time you are wandering past the dairy counter at your local Bulgarian supermarket, ask for a half kilo of sirene.
Like ricotta, Urdă is made with the whey of the cheese and is relatively high protein and low in fat. Urdă is produced by heating the whey resulting from the draining of any type of cheese. It is often made into molds to the shape of a half sphere. The paste is finely grained, silky and palatable. It contains 18 grams of protein per 100 grams. In Macedonia, the recipe of Urdă cheese has been passed from generation to generation in most households. Like Telemea it is eaten fresh and considered a delicacy although its fine, crumbly dry texture is not universally appreciated. It is often eaten in puddings or with fruit compote, rather than on its own. Clatite (pancakes) are often stuffed with Urda, mixed with finely chopped dill and a little sugar, while another dish consists of a mixture of milk, Urda and polenta.
The Feta cheese has a unique place in Greek (and European) culinary and cultural history. It even dates back to Homer’s day, when the poet described in his Odyssey how the giant Polyphemus made it from goat’s and ewe’s milk. Its history is then as old as humanity itself, and is connected to the taming of domestic animals 10,000 years B.C ago. Some say that its discovery was completely accidental, during transport of milk in stomachs of young animals. To the modern consumer, the word Feta means brine cheese, produced in Greece, using specific technology from sheep and goat’s milk. Feta is used as a table cheese, as well as in salads and pastries. Most notable is its use in the popular filo-based dishes spanakopita (“spinach pie”) and tyropita (“cheese pie”), or served with some olive oil or olives and sprinkled with aromatic herbs such as oregano. It can also be served cooked or grilled, as part of a sandwich, in omelettes, or as a salty alternative to other cheeses in a variety of dishes.
I hope you already tried once Halloumi! This delicious white cheese has a distinctive layered texture, similar to mozzarella and has a salty flavour. It is stored in its natural juices with salt-water and can keep for up to a year if frozen below −18 °C. Traditional halloumi is made from unpasteurised sheep and goat milk. It is often garnished with mint, a practice based in the belief that Halloumi keeps better and stays fresher and more flavoursome when wrapped with mint leaves. In accordance with this tradition, many packages of halloumi contain fragments of mint leaves on the surface of the cheese. Halloumi has a high melting point and so can easily be fried or grilled. For History lovers, Halloumi cheese originated in Cyprus in the Medieval Byzantine period (AD 395 – 1191), and was subsequently eaten throughout the Middle East.
The most popular and widely-consumed cheese in Turkey, Beyaz peynir (meaning white cheese) is produced with goat’s, sheep’s, or cow’s milk based on the region where it’s produced. This feta-like cheese comes soft, semi-soft, or hard. It has a grainy appearance and its varieties include high, medium, and low-fat content. The curds are pressed for a few hours, then roughly chopped and strained, sometimes in attractive wooden or woven moulds. After draining, Beyaz peynir is cut into slices before being salted and covered with brine. It is usually stored in brine for more than six months. It is soaked in cold water or milk before use, to remove the excess salt. Beyaz peynir is produced in a variety of styles, ranging from non-matured cheese curds to a quite strong mature version. It is eaten plain, for example as part of the traditional Turkish breakfast, used in salads, and incorporated into cooked foods such as menemen, börek, gözleme and pide.