1st June, 2003
At Slow Food’s international fair in Turin last year, organic delicacies included Irish wild salmon and moon-like rounds of Somerset cheddar made to a 13th century recipe. But the star of the show was a cheese brought over illegally by shepherds from Poland’s Tatra Mountains. Hilary Davies reports
Ever since Romanian farmers brought dairy farming to southern Poland in the 14th century, shepherds in the Tatra Mountains have been making Oscypek. In their wooden huts they steam unpasteurised milk in wooden pails, mould the curds by hand and hang them up to smoke in the rafters above the fire.
Yet, because it is made of unpasteurised milk, it has been illegal to sell the cheese in Poland since the 1950s. You can only find it on the black market, at little makeshift stalls set up on street corners or in local markets. For 50 years, shepherds have been forced to sell their Oscypek while sitting on canvas fishing stools, with their cheeses spread out in front of them on collapsible plastic tables and up-turned boxes.
Increasingly though, even this uncertain trade is becoming difficult to sustain. As Poland’s once empty shops have filled up with global alternatives, fewer and fewer people want the goods the shepherds produce – leather slippers, sheepskin rugs and homely woolly jumpers. Worse still, imports from New Zealand are squeezing Polish lamb out of the domestic meat market. As for their cheese, horror of horrors, Polish shops now sell imitation cheese with the same name....
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