Traditional

The traditional product used to be marketed as liptovská bryndza (Liptov [County] bryndza), now more often as ovčia bryndza (sheep bryndza). That variety must be made of only sheep milk.

Maturation

Sheep cheese aging

It is intensely salty and sharp. Its quality is believed to be the best in May.

The people who have access to it usually mix it with butter or heavy cream to reduce the sharpness and make it more spreadable, which many also do with the newer varieties.

Only about 10% of the bryndza produced in Slovakia meets the requirements that allow it to carry the designation ovčia bryndza. Its production is about 25% costlier than the usual supermarket product.

 

Supermarkets

The product commonly available in stores is called letná (summer) and zimná (winter) bryndza, or just bryndza.

Process

After pin-rolling

It is a mixture of a preserved and stored ingredient similar to traditional bryndza, mostly made in June and July, and of cow cheese. As a result, it is milder. This product, marketed without the attribute ovčia, "sheep," needs to contain no more than 51% of traditional bryndza to be legally labeled bryndza.

 

Liptov County

brynlipt

Historical Liptov,
Makovický marketing

 

Export

About a quarter of Slovakia's bryndza is exported, mainly to Hungary and the Czech Republic, additionally to Austria (especially Lower Austria including Vienna) – all of them traditional markets for Slovak bryndza since the times of the Habsburg monarchy – and to Germany and Poland.

Production

Sheep milk is first coagulated to give mild, moist, edible, perishable white sheep cheese (ovčí syr).

Bund

Sheep cheese

That is then aged in warm temperature (until it looks quite unappealing).

The unsightly rind that develops is removed and the rest is cut up, heavily salted, and ground (pin-rolled). The traditional texture was crumblier while regular salt was used, but became semi-spreadable when manufacturers began to use saline solution toward the end of the 19th century.

Bowl of bryndza

Modern bryndza

This process and product is limited to the Wallachian tradition of the Western Carpathians, which spills over from Slovakia to the adjacent regions of the Polish Podhale and the Moravian Valašsko.

Shelf product

 

Consumption

Despite its symbolic role as a local specialty and ingredient in the proverbial "national dish" bryndzové halušky (gnocchi with cream-diluted bryndza and bacon bits), the average Slovak consumes only 10-15 ounces of bryndza per year.

Bryndzove halusky

Bryndzové halušky

 

U.S. import

The U.S. Customs Service has maintained bryndza on its list of taxable imports since the first half of the 20th century. Bryndza is currently not subject to an import quota in the U.S., the rate of duty is 7.2%. Fewer than 300 pounds of Slovak bryndza are imported annually.

 

Historical kudos

An early reference to Liptov bryndza came from Joannes Grossinger from Komárno, who wrote in 1793 that it was also called burenda and that Liptovský Hrádok

grossinger150

had a particular reputation for it. Nobleman Johann Csaplovics, on the other hand, extolled bryndza from Brezno in the 1830s: "soft like thick cream, rich, refined, does not bite, and is a delicacy for every gourmet." Unlike modern May-bryndza enthusiasts, he thought it was best made in the fall.

When 19th-century scholars looked for a Latin term for bryndza, they reached for Lucius Columella's caseus pressus all the way back to the first century CE, although there is no hint that the Roman author referred to sheep cheese. Other 19th-century Latin names for it were caseus friatus and caseus salitus.

Bryndza

Q: What type of sheep cheese is it? Is there a substitute?

Traditional bryndza is sharp, salty, grayish, grated and pin-rolled, crumbly, semi-spreadable 100% sheep cheese. There is no close equivalent in taste and texture among sheep, cow, or goat cheeses. Most modern commercially available bryndza is milder, bleached creamy white, and two of its three varieties can legally contain up to 49% cow cheese. The European Commission registered the latter as Slovenská bryndza on its food list of Protected Geographical Indications on 16 July 2008.

Although the European Protected Geographical Indications treat it and the bryndza of the Polish Podhale region adjacent to northern Slovakia as separate products, the traditional variety differs little. It stems from the Wallachian shepherding culture that gradually spread counter-clockwise from the south-east along the main ridge of the Carpathians and had reached their western ranges in the Slovak majority counties by the 15th century.

Slovak and Polish definitions

The modern products registered by the European Commission differ more. Slovak bryndza (Slovenská bryndza) must contain more than 50% sheep cheese and can be produced year-round. Podhale bryndza (Bryndza Podhalańska) must contain no less than 60% sheep cheese and can be produced only from May through September.

Euro defined areas

The product labeled Slovak bryndza can come from most of Slovakia (turquoise shading), Podhale bryndza can come only from two counties north of the Slovak border and several neighboring villages (blue shading).

U.S. ethnic markets

The European mandates do not apply in the U.S. With meager import, most of the bryndza offered at ethnic markets is US-produced mash of cow cheese and feta, seasoned to resemble the Slovak and Polish product. The FDA does not regulate the composition of products labeled bryndza, nor is there a law against calling it "Slovak bryndza."

History

Words related to bryndza are used for other kinds of cheese in other countries, namely in Romania, which objected to Slovakia's use of the word to label its exported bryndza before and as Slovakia applied to have it entered on the Protected Geographical Indications list. The failed goal was to reserve the Romanian word brânză (historically, brînză, the source of the Slovak word that arrived with the Wallachian shepherds) as a Europe-wide designation of Romanian cheese.

Among the Slovak counsels' successful counterarguments before the European Commission was that the Romanian word meant merely "(any salty) cheese," not a specific product.

1470

The earliest known record of the word is brençe described as "Wallachian cheese" in a 1370 document from the Mediterranean port of Dubrovnik. It is quite likely that the Wallachian shepherds would have made it from sheep milk, but the document did not specify what type of sheep cheese it was.

Grazing

Bryndza was first recorded in the Slovak counties in 1470 and in the adjacent Polish Podhale in 1527. Ethnologists estimate that the specific sheep cheese product (as opposed to the word) known as traditional bryndza today developed only in the Western Carpathians and had become common by the 17th century.

Liptauer cheese via Vienna

Commercial processing of bryndza in plants rather than mountain sheepfolds began in Slovakia in the 1780s. The most famous region of origin became Liptov County, north-central Slovakia, mainly through the marketing efforts of the Makovický merchant and banker family in Ružomberok in the 19th century.

makbryndziaren250

Bryndza was sold as Liptauer Käse (the German for "Liptov cheese") in Vienna in the 19th century, the source of its English name Liptauer cheese. The English phrase often refers to bryndza mixed with paprika and other ingredients, which is colloquially called šmirkas in Slovak (from the German Schmierkäse, "spread cheese"), and more formally bryndzová nátierka, "bryndza spread."

pappbryndzatruck350

Slovakia produces about 3,300 US tons of bryndza each year. Igor Pap, a modern Liptov bryndza maker, parked here below Gerlach, still expects his dog to watch more sheep than the flock painted on his pickup.