Oscypek has been produced in the Tatra mountains since the fourteenth century, when farmers from the southern Romanian province of Walachia imported dairy farming to the Polish part of the Carpathians. Oscypek is a sheep’s milk cheese made from the milk of Zackel sheep, a Hungarian breed that has acclimated perfectly over the past three or four centuries.
Until recently, the production area for this cheese was limited to the Tatra mountains, but with the inception of the region’s National Park — when the regions of Pieniny, Gorce, Beskidy and Bieszczady were conserved and made available for grazing — the area of production has grown to include the park. The Polish part of Tatra mountains vary in altitude between 800 and 1,500 meters. Despite abundant rainfall, the pastures are not rich in forage because the temperature remains low throughout the year.
The sheep are kept outside from May to September and are milked twice a day. The cheese is produced by the shepherds themselves in rudimentary—but rigorously clean—huts. In the huts or bacówka, a fire is always lit; it is used for the cheesemaking and for smoking the finished cheeses that are hung from the rafters.
The most notable aspect of these smoked, hard cheeses is their shape, spindle-like with a decorative band impressed into the circumference.
The first step in producing Oscypek is the heating of the raw sheep milk from the morning and evening milkings. Next, the milk is mixed with calf rennet. After a first cutting of the curds, hot water is added, and the curds are broken a second time. The mass is then worked by hand into the typical spindle shape. To give the cheese this unusual form, the cheesemaker works the curd slowly between his skilled hands, adding warm water occasionally to keep the curd soft. Each form of Oscypek requires at least an hour of manual manipulation, as the cheesemaker gently kneads the cheese and presses out the excess whey. With a wooden ring, the cheeses are embossed with the characteristic mark of every producer and salted for 24 hours. Then they are hung from the beams to be smoked.
When mature, Oscypek weighs between 600 and 800 grams, and is eight or nine centimeters in diameter. The cheese is compact with a pale straw-yellow color, offering a clean, lightly toasted aroma with pleasant mineral notes and a chestnut flavor. Oscypek is usually served in thin slices accompanied by wine, vodka or beer. It is also excellent grilled.
In summary, the objectives of the Presidium are: to help Batza overcome the regulatory hurdles (today producing raw milk cheese in Poland is particularly complicated) and to increase the awareness of Oscypek in the best Polish restaurants.
In spring 2004, thanks to a project funded by the Region of Tuscany, a group of representatives from the Polish Presidium visited some Italian productions (the Zeri Lamb Presidium and Pistoia Mountain Pecorino Presidium in Tuscany and the Alpagota Lamb Presidium in Veneto, useful examples to help build an efficient supply chain of slaughtering and marketing the lambs. In 2005 the visit was reciprocated by some Tuscan technicians who visited the Tatra Mountains. In the same year in Krakow, Oscypek was involved in an important event to present traditional products. In 2008 it became the first Polish product to receive a Protected Designation of Origin.
Malopolskie, Tatra mountains