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Bryndza is a type of sheep’s milk cheese produced in several regions in Slovakia and one particular region of Poland. There are three primary types of this cheese, each with different requirements for how it is made. The cheese can be rather crumbly or quite soft and spreadable, depending on how it is made or prepared, and is white or gray and quite salty in flavor. Bryndza is protected as a cheese name by the European Union and can only be applied to specific types of cheese, though in the US this protection is typically not observed.
The name “bryndza” comes from a Wallachian, or Romanian, word for “cheese” in general, and its oldest recorded usage is on a document from a port in the Mediterranean from 1370. Over time, the use of this name was refined in certain areas, such as Slovakia and Poland, into a name for a specific type of cheese. This cheese spread in popularity to different parts of Europe and is commonly enjoyed not only in the countries in which it is made, but also the Czech Republic and parts of Germany.
There are three basic types of this cheese that are produced and protected by designation of the European Union. These are the Polish type, bryndza Podhalańska, the Slovak variety, Slovenská bryndza, and the type that contains only sheep’s milk, called either liptovská or ovčia bryndza. The Polish and Slovak varieties are typically made with a combination of sheep’s milk and cow’s milk; the Polish type must be at least 60% sheep’s milk while the Slovak variety must be over 50% sheep’s milk to use the protected designation. Ovčia, on the other hand, is 100% sheep’s milk and is the least commonly produced variety.
Bryndza is quite salty, and when made with standard salt it is fairly crumbly, somewhat similar to feta cheese. Some manufacturers prefer to use saline solution rather than salt, and this makes a softer, spreadable cheese. Many people who eat the crumbly variety mix it with some milk or heavy cream to reduce the sharp flavor of the cheese and make it into a spreadable topping for toast. There is no designation of origin protection for this cheese in the US, however, and so cheese makers can label cheese as bryndza even if it contains no sheep’s milk. Such cheeses are often combinations of other cheese, such as feta, that are seasoned to taste more like the Slovakian cheese.