Regular readers of this blog-cum-website will have noticed that in HeinzelCheese land just as anywhere else, summer is traveling time. After Greece, Turkey and the Allgäu I recently went to Poland to find out about the food scene there. Finally! I mean, I grew up and live in Berlin, an hour from the Polish border! Cheese was of course very high on my list of things to research and I did indeed discover lots of good stuff. You HeinzelCheeseTalk folks were fantastically quick and numerous to react – thank you for your openness and interest! Here’s a quick report of what we’ve been tasting and discussing – but first a map, to get at least an idea…
Twaróg: Even more than here in Germany, Poland is unthinkable without quark. Twaróg is drier and more crumbly than quark, and yes, the German word has derived from the Slavic.
Buncek: After that we had a fresh soft goat cheese (not pictured) made by Bożena and Daniel Sokołowscy from the organic farm Kozia Łąka Sery Łomnickie near Jelenia Góra (Hirschberg), who are milking about 100 goats.
Marwice: A rich, very pleasantly acidic and crumbly semi-hard cheese made from Jersey milk on Cezary und Edyta Szczupak’s organic farm Frykas, founded 16 years ago. The couple are milking 20 goats and 5 Jersey cows, and do all the work themselves and by hand. Their cheeses vary considerably according to weather patterns because they do not use any starter cultures – this one was a master piece.
Smielec: This mature hard goat cheese from Łomnickie was coated with black wax and pretty dry. I discovered it in an organic food store in Warsaw, Wasz Sklep. It had almost no acidity and was very low in salt, so that you had to listen carefully not to overhear its gentle voice.
Dojrzewajacy: This was its equivalent without the wax cover, obviously ripened with a variety of cultures and the rind brushed clean; the taste complex and multi-layered, the texture dry, but not too dry, salty, but not excessively so.
Golek: This rather simple, rather salty smoked cheese, assumedly made from cow’s milk, I bought at the (fantastic!) Hala Mirowska market in Warsaw. It’s a widely made copy cat freeloading on the Tatra mountains’ Oscypek fame, and at least this one tasted as if it contained quite a bit of whey.
Oscypek: And this is the real stuff! The spindle-shaped sheep cheese originally came to the south of Poland with nomadic shepherds from Wallachia in Romania. In its most authentic form it’s made only during the summer months in mountain dairy huts with an open fire place. Similar to Mozzarella and Cacciocavallo it is shaped in hot water, but pressed and kneaded by hand for about an hour to extract as much whey as possible. Today it is protected by a EU PDO seal which allows for the addition of up to 40% cows milk, but at its purest the milk comes from the local Zackel sheep. Once shaped the cheeses are ligned up under the rafters, in the drifting smoke. The result keeps a very long time and represents the ultimate concentration of the rich mountain sheep milk; the intense, complex taste lingers on and on like your gaze roaming freely over the mountains’ horizon… The (highly recommendable) Polish foodblog Minta Eats describes the production of Oscypek very well, with great pictures. My cheese came from Wojtek and Hanna Komperda, I bought it at the Food Festival Dobrego Smaku in Poznan.
Mazuriano: The first of three cheeses from the fantastic Frontiera farm in Mazurka which has been recently featured in an Arte TV trilogy about Poland. I came across it at the Koneser cheese shop in Poznan (a pun, as “ser” in Polish is cheese, but the word sounds like connoisseur). About a decade ago Sylvia Szlandrowicz and Ruslan Kozynko moved out to the far northeast and called their isolated farm in Sorkwity Frontiera, border. They’re milking 90 sheep and a few Jersey cows and say they feel like pioneers of a new kind of peasant life.
Blue Jersey und Blue Schaf Frontiera: As a cheesemaker Szlandrowicz is self-taught, but has obviously reached her declared goal of making Poland’s best blue cheese, based on the memory of a French cheese her grandmother once brought home.
However, her Frontiera Blue (on the right is the creamy sheep version, on the left the more crumbly Jersey one) might have been inspired by Roquefort or Bleu d’Auvergne, but it certainly has its very own and original density and straightforwardness – I want to go to Mazuria!!!
Ser smazony z kminkiem: No Polish cheese tasting would be complete without this cooked cheese flavored with caraway seeds. Slightly warmed it’s the ultimate dip for all cheese lovers. It originally stems from the Wielkopolski region where it was home-produced (similarly to the French Cancoillotte) and called “Hauskäse” by Silesians.
Bryndza: And finally, not pictured, something very unusual but common in Poland, in this case from the Maziejuk family’s goats farm Figa. Bryndza is a slightly grainy white paste for which Bundz (produced like Oscypek, but without the kneading and smoking) is left to ripen for several weeks and then broken down into a highly aromatic paste that tastes distinctively of penicillium cultures.
I admit that the wine selection was based on serendipity – but it’s not without reason that serendipity is my favored English word! Sukcesja (which I found in a great, great wine bar in Warsaw, Alewino) from Winnice Dziedzic 44 in Straszydle was very light in color, sleek and acidity-driven in a citrussy way. It’s a cuvée of three varieties but I couldn’t find out which ones exactly. The small estate has Bianca, Aurora, Sibera, Muscat, Hibernal and Seyval Blanc growing. The next wine, Mico from Marcin Pierozynski of the two hectare small Winnica Witanowice in Wadowice, was very different, even before tasting. Poznan wine consultant Michal Wieckowicz had given me a bottle of this pure Hibernal. I admit that my expectations weren’t very high: it was unfiltered, without sulfites, had only 11,5% alcohol and there clearly was something going on in the bottle: the wine was a little bubbly – but hey, this bubbles girl loved the stuff! In fact, everybody at the table was very taken by the discreet baked apple aroma, the round acidity, its lightness and character – YES! The following wine likewise turned out to be a real star, in a blind tasting I might have mistaken it for a slightly off-dry, light Riesling Kabinett from Württemberg or Saxony. The J13 (many wine producers avoid mentioning both variety and vintage on the label as this could easily turn the bureaucratic hurdles for obtaining a sales license from kafka-esque to possibly insurmountable) from Dom Bliskowice between Warsaw and Krakow on the river Vistula is made from Johanniter – and a real hit. The 4.5 hectare estate was started from scratch in 2009 by Maciej Sondij and his uncle, both architects. The J13 is unfiltered, with very little sulfite added (54mg total) – and tastes crystal clear, the few grams of residual sugar beautifully woven into the fruit – where is the Berlin wine merchant who makes this available here?!?
The rather soft, slightly sweetish Maryna (a rosé made from Regent, Maréchal Foch, Rondo and Léon Millot) from Winnice Szúkowka which Zbigniew Kmiec from Kafe Zielony Niedzwiedz had given me, had a really tough job following… A big, positive surprise however was the only red wine I had brought from Poland, the 3.12 from Bliskowice made exclusively from Regent. Now, honestly, how many Regent wines have I come across so far which I liked enough to drink (and enjoy) at least one glass? Almost none, because they tend to be either one-sided in hard tannins or a boring kind of simple fruit. Whereas this guy offered a whole basket full of dried red and black fruit and berries, seasoned with all kinds of spices from cloves to allspice. To avoid any misunderstandings: this is no Grand Cru, but a lovely wine, and it is only the second vintage… chapeau. After that everybody was in such a good mood that (the Polish stuff finished to the last drop) I opened a bottle of the equally enjoyable, unfiltered 2011 Spätburgunder from Hubert Lay in Ihringen. What a wonderful world…
HeinzelCheeseTalks take place regularly, usually on a Friday at 6pm at Markthalle Neun in Berlin-Kreuzberg. I bring some interesting cheese, open a few bottles of wine, and we sit around the large table opposite the Suff wine stall, tasting, drinking, talking, discussing (mostly in German – but we usually manage to cater to English speakers too). Invites are sent out about ten days before we meet, to a mailing list you can join here. Reservations need to be confirmed and are strictly by first come first serve – so be quick! And please do let me know if you can’t make it – there is always a waiting list. A donation of ten euros per person (or one or two euros more if you really had a lot of fun…) is much appreciated. Cheesio!