Bryndza, a soft sheep cheese, is a traditional food in Slovakia. It tastes something like feta but is soft. Bryndzove halusky is the classic Slovak dish, little potato gnocchi smothered in byndza and bacon. This version simulates the taste for those who don’t have access to bryndza or don’t have the time to make potato gnocchi.
Ask any Slovak about traditional Slovak foods, and you’ll most likely hear about bryndzove halusky (halushky).
Halusky is usually translated as potato dumplings, but I’ve seen dumpling cover everything from bread-like blobs to Chinese wontons to Slovak potato drops, all exceedingly different.
Bryndza is a soft sheep cheese, tasting something akin to feta, salty and sharp. It’s used to make spreads for bread, fill perogies, or even make soup. It’s most common application is as a sauce over halusky.
Many brands mix sheep and cow milk to make bryndza, but some brands use only sheep milk, and a few even have raw sheep bryndza. To fit in with my probiotic and fermenting theme, bryndza is full of probiotics. There is a study examining which bacteria bryndza contains and their antimicrobial activity.
The substitutes for bryndza, feta and sour cream, are both fermented milk products as well.
Slovakia has a rich culture of shepherds and sheep, particularly central Slovakia. There is an old Slovak cartoon of two shepherds with their sheep in the mountains, pasturing sheep for the summer. I guess I particularly like it because it reminds me of my own nostalgic memories of sheep and alpine meadows.
Milking sheep is labour intensive. Depending on the type of sheep, one ewe will produce between 2-5 cups of milk a day. I was once at a salash (a milk sheep farm) that was in the mountains for the summer, and it took three men about an hour and a half to hand milk 300 sheep. The end result was about 6 or 7 gallons of milk. Fortunately sheep milk has a higher protein count than cow’s milk, and the same amount of milk will make more cheese.
When we drive through rural Slovakia (north and east of the western region), one of my favourite sites is a shepherd out with his sheep. It seems to harken to another time, a remnant of a life lived closer to nature. These men, however, live a life of hard work, not romantic nostalgia. Julo Kostus has a gorgeous documentary photo series of a salash that still operates in the traditional style.
Because most of my readers don’t have access to bryndza, I’ve combined feta cheese with sour cream for a pretty close approximation. Change the proportions according to your taste, depending on if you prefer a stronger or weaker feta flavour.
If you can’t eat cow dairy, you should be able to find sheep and/or goat feta and use sheep/goat/other sourced yogurt for sour cream.
In place of halusky, I’ve used steamed cauliflower. Halusky consists of potatoes, flour, salt, and often an egg. If you would like to make halusky, Slovak Cooking has a recipe (although I add an egg to mine). If you don’t have a spaetzle maker, you can just cut it with a knife.
Don’t forget the bacon! After frying it, Slovaks pour the oil over the halusky.
Dobru chut (bon appetit)!
- 1 large head cauliflower
- 200g /7oz feta or bryndza
- 180g / 3/4 cup sour cream
- 200g / 7oz bacon
- Break cauliflower into florets and steam until soft, about 5 min.
- Chop up bacon (even better if you can find a slab of bacon, but sliced will do) and fry until somewhat crispy but not too hard.
- In a mini food processor, or mash with a fork, mix the feta (or bryndza) and sour cream. The warmth of the cauliflower will soften it more. Taste to adjust proportions according to your preference.
- Drain the cauliflower well.
- Layer as you wish - some keep each layer separate, some mix cheese and halusky with bacon on top, some mix bacon with halusky with cheese on top.