Once upon a time cheeses made in Eastern European countries rarely travelled beyond their own borders. Cheese makers in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and Romania served only a domestic market.
Luckily for the rest of the cheese-loving world, significant investments have been made in the Eastern European dairy sector as of late. Modern facilities have brought cheese production to a more competitive level, and Eastern European cheeses may finally receive some of the worldwide attention they deserve.
Traditions and Styles
Because the borders of Eastern Europe have been ever changing throughout history, the cheeses of the region represent a delicious melting pot of traditions and styles. Greatly influenced by neighbouring countries, you’ll find Swiss – and Danish Havarti-style cheeses made in Lithuania and Slovenia, as well as a version of Mozzarella crafted in Poland (it’s called Lubelski). You’ll also notice a multitude of white Greek Feta-like cheeses, including the lemony Sirene from Bulgaria and tangy Telemea from Romania.
There are also some very original cheeses unique to Eastern Europe – Hungary’s spicy Liptauer and Romania’s buffalo milk Aldermen, for example. These varieties rival some of the best from Europe’s more traditional cheese making countries. So while relatively still unknown, it’s perhaps only a matter of time before Balkan Kashkaval becomes a household name as common as Camembert.
Here’s your introduction to Eastern European cheeses:
Abertam: This traditional farmhouse cheese is made in Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), a city historically famous for its hot spring spas and natural pastures. Made from the milk of richly fed mountain sheep, the cheese has a robust flavour and hard, pressed texture. Abertam is typically shaped into irregular balls and ripened for two months to develop a thin, yellow-orange rind. It’s superb for snacking or melting.
Balaton: Named after Hungary’s beautiful Lake Balaton, this traditional creamery cheese is made from cow’s milk. It has a thin, greasy natural rind and a firm, compact texture with small holes. With a pleasantly acidic and mild flavour, the loaf-shaped cheese is versatile enough for snacking, cooking and grilling.
Liptauer: This very popular white cheese is the basis for numerous traditional dishes. A great match for the spiciness of Hungarian cuisine, it displays the flavours of onion, caraway seed, paprika, and capers. Liptauer is made from a mix of sheep and cow milks and is sold in pots.
Damski: This speciality cow’s milk cheese comes from Mragowo, an area well known for its lush farms and thriving dairy industry. Smoked over natural wood embers, the semi-soft cheese has a burnt rind, smoky aroma and pleasantly sweet flavour.
Koldamer: This Baby Swiss-style cheese is made from cow’s milk and aged for four months. The pale yellow interior is semi-firm, smoothly textured, and dotted with small holes. Mild and nutty in flavour, Koldamer is actually very similar to Tilsit, but without the pungency. It’s most commonly used as a table cheese or melted into sandwiches.
Oszczypek: This very old ewe’s milk variety was originally made by shepherds living in the Tatra Mountains. Today it’s still produced using traditional, non-industrial methods. The oval-shaped cheese is crafted by pressing the curd into hard-carved wooden moulds, giving it a unique pattern that reveals its region of origin. Oszczypek is smoked, giving it a very distinctive, slightly salty flavour. Depending on smoking time, the cheese may be pale yellow to brown in colour.
Ardalena: This cheese is a real standout from other Eastern European varieties as it’s made from the milk of Transylvanian water buffalos. Aged for 12 months, the refined cheese has a firm texture and pure flavour that lingers on the palate with a tangy bite. The hard pale yellow interior has various sized holes and is ideal for snacking, shredding, grating, or cooking.
Brinza (Burduf Brinza): Creamy, rich, and salty, this storied white sheep’s milk cheese closely resembles Feta. Its texture ranges from soft and spreadable when young, to more semi-dry and crumbly as it ages. Used mostly for cooking, Brinza is mild, with a sweet, aromatic character. It’s best on salads or melted on pizzas.
Kashkaval: Essential to the traditional Balkan diet, this typical yellow cheese is produced in Romania, and Bulgaria, Hungary, Turkey, Greece and Croatia, as well. The sheep’s milk speciality, aged for six months, has a smooth texture and mild, slightly tangy taste that hints of olive oil. It’s wonderful as a snack with olives, and even better on the grill because it doesn’t melt. Just cut into slices, brush with olive oil and garlic and grill until lightly browned.
Telemea: This traditional white cheese is made with only sheep’s milk, according to the original Feta recipe. (Most Fetas produced today use a mix of cow, goat, and/or sheep milk.) Matured in a brine bath of salt and whey, the no-rind cheese has a soft, crumbly texture and tangy aftertaste. Some varieties are seasoned with cumin seeds for spicy, nutty flavour. Telemea can be used as a table, snack, or salad cheese, and is wonderful paired with olives.