About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Bryndzové Halušky

My friend Tanna and I were conversing via email some time ago when she thought to ask if I knew anything about bryndzové halušky, the national dish of Slovakia. Given that Slovakia and Poland share a common border through the Carpathian mountains and that my wife is Polish, it was a reasonable question, but upon enquiry, ultimately fruitless.

Somehow though, bryndzové halušky became stuck in my mind, somewhat like an itch that couldn't be scratched and so began a slow investigation. It was a dish that was conceived in the mountainous region of Slovakia and Poland. The Carpathian mountains stretch all the way to Romania and it was Romanian shepherds who introduced sheep herds to the region, starting from the 13th or 14th century. Their name for cheese, bryndza, has come to be associated with the famous sheep's milk or shepherd's cheeses throughout the mountains.

Potato dumplings are common to many central and eastern European countries, but it was the combination of cheese and dumplings, that made this dish both satisfying and fortifying in this cold climate, especially of Slovakia, which is dominated by mountains.

A search of the internet threw up a few recipes in English, but one complication was that I had no idea how it should taste. Another difficulty was that the bryndza (soft sheep's milk cheese), which has a central role, pretty much can't be obtained anywhere outside the region, as it's made from unpasteurised milk.

If only I could find some Slovakians, maybe they could tell me how to go about it.

An email to the Slovakian embassy, here in Canberra, went unanswered. There was a blogger who had some Slovakian heritage, but her mother and grandmother couldn't help. You Tube had some folk preparing the dish on camera, parts of which were useful, but as they spoke in Slovakian, the full picture wasn't available.

I was on my own.

The halušky or potato dumpling part was really the easiest to get a handle on, as working with this mixture is something that is common in our kitchen and getting the shape wasn't too difficult either as instead of a sieve with large (1cm) holes through which the batter is coaxed, we had a spatzle maker, which made essentially the same shape, just a little smaller.

Bryndza was the problem child. Over time, there were a few different thoughts. A specialist cheese shop suggested using the more available goat's cheese, but that felt like it would change the character of it as sheep's milk is a bit sweeter and let's face it, not goaty. There was a semi-hard cheese that I bought, but had a change of heart when remembering that there needs to be a gently sour tang, which it didn't have. Fetta cheese melted into a bechamel sauce was another line of thought that was discarded as not feeling right.

Then came the breakthrough. How about some sheep's milk yoghurt mixed with some mascarpone?!!! Initially a spoon of each was mixed together and there it was, finally, a soft creamy cheese that was both slightly sweet and sour. From go to whoa, this point had taken some six months and now the dish could finally go ahead.

Bryndzové Halušky
(serves 6 to 8)

1kg white, starchy potatoes - not waxy
1 cup milk
plain (all purpose) flour
250g mascarpone cheese
500g sheep's milk yoghurt, drained in muslin for 2 hours
fried bacon pieces or melted dripping
sour cream - optional

In a large bowl, grate all the potatoes to a pulp, keeping all the water* that forms. Add the milk, salt to taste and enough flour to form a thick batter that holds its shape when dropped from a spoon. With a special halušky sieve or spatzle maker, pass the batter through into a large pot of boiling salted water. If you don't have these implements, pour the batter onto a board, tilt over the water and slice off noodles with a knife. They are cooked when they have all risen to the surface. Scoop them out into a bowl until the batter is all used up. Mix the mascarpone with the drained sheep's milk yoghurt and add to the bowl with the halušky and mix well, until all the noodles are covered. Ladle onto plates and garnish with bacon or melted dripping. Serve with sour cream if desired.

* some recipes call for this water to be removed, but you must carefully retain all the starch if you do this

NB: Sorry for the saffron hue to the photos, it was due to the light source. The dish is really a creamy white.
  posted at 3:00 pm

At 6:08 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

An itch that can't be scratched;)) You are the most tenacious man around! It's been so long since I had it now . . .mascarpone and sheep's milk yoghurt . . . surely one of my two special groceries will have the sheep's milk yoghurt. And it really has to have bacon!!!! oh yes!
You are a wonder Neil!Thanks, Thanks!!

At 6:55 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It actually looks good yellow, Neil. I'm sure it was delicious. (Rare cheeses? Ask the cheese man at Leo's in Kew. He seems to have a new cheese every week.)

At 8:30 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheese, potato, bacon, and sour cream are a perfect combination. And here I was thinking that Eastern European food was boring!

At 9:53 pm, Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Now this is a dish that's completely new to me -- and I can't even pronounce it -- but it looks absolutely delicious. Anything worth pondering for six months is worth a try. Great research and a great post.

At 7:48 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My arteries were hardening as I read this Neil! As David Brent would say, for winter it sounds "Perfic".

At 12:43 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, all scratched now! I really hope you can get the yoghurt and insist that you tell me if this version is at least something like what you had.

Hi kitchen hand, thought the same thing myself, the real colour is a little boring. Funnily enough, saffron is native to this area too and was certainly used in Poland in medieval times.

Hi tim, yep, all the good stuff!

You have a point though about food variety in this region and that had a lot to do with the political situation many countries found themselves in. Yes, blame the commies. Take Poland for instance (because I know a little bit here). Their cuisine developed the same as the rest of Europe from medievel times and had an array of dishes that would probably astonish Poles from even just 20 years ago. Polish cuisine had stagnated since the early 20th century, though to be fair, it wasn't all the Russian's fault These days the situation is slowly improving, but they are still playing catch up.

Hi lydia, I can't say it either, my wife was having a quite chuckle at my sad attempts!

Hi gobbler, it's not as bad as it sounds because of the yoghurt which was just 6% fat, though I must confess to not checking the mascarpone. "Perfic" indeed!

At 2:49 pm, Blogger Dani said...

most organic stores should have sheep's yoghurt. Leo's does as well. WE're addicted to quark made of sheep's yoghurt here at Chez KP. So creamy.

This dish sounds delicious. Perfect winter comfort food. Might have to give it a try now you've done all the hard yards!

At 6:49 pm, Blogger stickyfingers said...

Neil, I want to drown myself in it.

I make sheeps milk labneh - a kind of cheese - by throwing sheeps yoghurt in a couple of layers of Chux, and trussing it up to hang over a pot to drain in the fridge overnight. Too easy.

At 10:05 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi dani, thanks for the tip. The sheep's milk quark is definitely something I'll look out for, souns delish.

Hi sticky, I'd throw you a life buoy, but it sounds like you don't want to be saved. Never thought of Chux - good tip.

At 5:27 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to find out more about this gentleman he is awesome!!! I am originaly from Slovakia and last year we visited Slovakia and ate everywhere where we could BRYNDZOVE HALUSKY!!!! We miss this meal so much!!! Interestigly enough my son justc mentioned today this great dish and I was able to find this article on Internet! Another speciality is VYPRAZANY SYR -only from the brick cheese!! Can not buy it in California and the same with bryndza... More later

At 12:36 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Neil,
I'm Slovak living in Australia at the moment. I've been missing bryndzove halusky a lot, so I went to search for bryndza today, unsuccessfully;( I've bought some Bulgarian sheep feta cheese, but didn't do it for me... I love your yogurt and mascarpone idea! Hope it will be easy to find sheep yogurt.
One more thing, where did you buy spatzle maker?

Thanks! ;)


At 6:34 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi anon, it's so hard when you don't live in Slovakia to get the right cheese or an aproximation, good luck with your endeavours.

Hi Michaela, I bought my spatzle maker from Scullery Maid, 1400 High Street, Malvern, 9509 4003. Sheep's milk yoghurt isn't too hard to find, a good deli should have some or try the delis at Prahran market. Good luck!

At 5:09 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Neil,

you cant imagine, how many Slovak people you made happy with this receipt! I am also from Slovakia, and me and my sister, we were looking for bryndza everywhere,but bad luck. Now, I will cook this special dish for our family and will tell them is the secret receipt :-)).

At 9:26 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi anon, I know it won't taste the same as what you can get back home, but the heart of this dish is in the right place. Hope you enjoy it.

At 9:48 pm, Blogger TBB said...

This sounds delicious and amazing. However, bryndza is not a 'creamy' cheese. It's rather crumbly and dry.
I don't believe there is anything that can substitute it on halusky but since you have gone through all this trouble :), I just have to try your version of the dish. I also wish to add that beer is usually the drink that accompanies it.

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