6 Cheeses from Transylvania You Simply Must Try in Your Lifetime
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Transylvania is a spectacular place to visit. It is a true magnet for travelers all over the world, with its picturesque little towns, medieval castles, mineral waters, breath-taking mountain views, and fascinating wildlife.
And there is, of course, the legend of Count Dracula, the most famous vampire in the human history. Yet, while Count Dracula and his gang of snobbish wealthy vampires were infatuated with the taste of blood, the peasants of Transylvania had a more aristocratic, and why not, surprising passion: cheese specialties.
Prepared according to ancient traditions – some of them dating even before Christ – Transylvania’s cheeses can easily compete with some of Europe’s most famous specialties. In fact, most Transylvanian cheeses resemble a lot of them or they are simply better.
For example, the Telemea cheese can easily be confused with Greek feta. The Năsal cheese can compete with globally renowned cheeses, such as Munster or Limburger. The Urda cheese follows the same preparation process as Ricotta, while Cașcavea cheese is… well, it’s a cheese with a strange name even for Romanians. But here is a list of six Romanian cheeses that you simply cannot miss on a culinary vacation in Transylvania.
Traveling to Romania in 2021
Romania adopts its own national classification of high-risk areas. Passengers from all over the world may enter Romania, provided they abide by the entry rules.
All arrivals from high-risk countries are subject to the requirement of a pre-departure negative RT-PCR test, taken no longer than 72 h prior to arrival. They are also subject to 14 days quarantine.
Travelers who have received their final vaccination for COVID-19 more than 10 days ago, are exempt from quarantine. It is required to show proof of vaccination, including the dates.
Also, travelers that have been confirmed positive for SARS-CoV-2 disease in the last 90 days prior to entry into the country are exempt. Proof can be the result of an antibody test taken no more than 14 days before arrival or an RT-PCR document showing the date of infection.
The quarantine may be shortened to 10 days if a negative test result is obtained on day 8.
The Telemea is the most popular cheese specialty in Romania. It is made from various types of milk: cow’s, sheep’s, goat’s, and even buffalo’s. Its texture is similar to its famous Greek cousin, feta cheese. But while the buffalo Telemea and the goat ones are mostly savored fresh, the sheep Telemea needs to be aged for an intense flavor and a buttery soft texture.
One of the most appreciated specialties of Telemea is Telemeaua de Ibănești. It is so special it has actually been included in the European registry of products with protected designation of origin. On the one hand, its uniqueness comes from the cow’s strict dietary restrictions and, on the other, by the water used for the brine, very rich in calcium and magnesium.
The Telemea is a versatile cheese that can be served as such or added to a wide range of dishes, one of the most beloved being the salty cheese pie. It’s hard to believe anyone out there could resist just one slice of this incredible pie.
Brânză de burduf
Image source: wikipedia.org
Burduf cheese is a salty cheese made with sheep’s milk, with a strong flavor and a soft texture. This type of cheese is made from an authentic sweet cheese called caș, which needs to be kept in large wooden barrels for at least 10 days. Then, the cheese is hand-mixed and placed for 2-3 months in a natural membrane – more precisely a pig’s bladder, cleaned and sewn together with strips made of... sheepskin, of course.
In fact, it’s the sheepskin that elevates the stingy, yet delicious flavor of the creamy burduf cheese. This cheese is also a key ingredient for bulz, a polenta stuffed with sausages, smoked bacon, and burduf cheese. Not quite a low-calorie dish, but totally worth trying.
Cașcavea is a young cheese, one of the traditional dishes belonging to the Carpathians’ shepherds. This specialty is obtained by cold smoking a low-salt caș cheese in sweet wood. It is consumed by some cheese lovers with fruits as a dessert, but you can always choose the traditional shepherd’s way: accompanied by slices of white or red onion and a couple of shots of țuica (a homemade plum brandy) to wash everything away. Beware of the țuica though; sometimes it can have up 65% alcohol. Yes, it’s that crazy-strong!
Same as its Italian relative ricotta, urda cheese is produced by heating the whey leftovers from making caș or telemea. The result is this low-fat, granulated, soft cheese. Urda is rich in minerals and quality protein, and is also used for preparing cheesecakes or other desserts. You can add slices of urda cheese to a tomato and cucumber salad for a fresh lunch in the hot summer days.
Năsal cheese is an awarded and unique smear-ripened cheese, aged with a smear of Brevibacterium linens. This bacterium is responsible for the world’s famous varieties of cheese like Munster, Limburger, or Raclette.
Thanks to its production method, this is quite a unique piece of cheese. Unlike other cheeses that can be artificially enriched with noble molds, the Năsal cheese is produced in a natural cave from Țaga (Cluj County), because the bacterium could not be moved in other mediums. So, if you are visiting Transylvania and want a unique culinary experience, you must have a taste of this exquisite cheese. This could also be a good enough reason to welcome Romanian red wines into your life.
Cheese in fir tree bark
The Cheese in fir tree bark is a legendary type of cheese. It is a specialty specific to the Bran area, the very same place where Dracula’s Castle is located. The cheese is similarly prepared as the burduf cheese, but every little detail counts. For example, you can only use a spoon made from sycamore wood in the preparation process.
Small pieces of cheese fill a fir tree bark cylinder and then they are placed on a grating and left for one day to drain completely. The cylinders are then smoked for at least two weeks. The fir tree bark is the one that gives this authentic Transylvanian cheese its unique flavor. And there you have it, a piece of cheese that goes back a thousand years in Romania’s history.
Romanian cheeses are rich in flavor and unique in their appearance. They speak about surprising traditions and legends. So, if you want to delight your palate with any of these local beauties, the best place to do it is definitely Transylvania.
Embark on a memorable culinary vacation in Romania and try any mix of local cheeses. Eating in nature is highly recommended. Yes, the picturesque scenery of Transylvania will perfectly complement any culinary feast. Just remember to have some garlic on the side. After all, you’re in Transylvania, you never know when you might actually need it.