Monday, June 16, 2008

The smell of cheese was thick in the air...

After spending sometime in Krakow, we headed down to Zakopane, a small village in the Tatra mountains, the Polish part of the Carpathian range, on the border with Slovakia. Zakopane is a holiday mecca for Polish tourists, offering skiing in the winter and mini golf, alpine slides, and loads of drinking in the summer. As with most touristy towns, street food is key. Some of the recurring stands hawked food that resembled Polish versions of American carnival staples - waffles topped with loads of whipped cream and chocolate instead of elephant ears and funnel cakes; greasy roast potatoes instead of French fries dripping in ketchup; enormous pigs spinning on spits instead of hot dog stands. Soft serve ice cream though was refreshingly familiar.

However, one type of stand was more ubiquitous than all of the rest. And these offered something for which I can think of no American equivalent - smoked cheese.

Called oscypek, this cheese was sold sometimes in Krakow as well, and because of it's molded shape and burnt brown hue, we'd mistaken it for mini loaves of bread. But because it is so prevelant in Zakopane (you literally cannot walk five feet without running into an oscypek stand), the smell of smoked cheese is unmistakable and inescapable.

It comes in several varieties, but we weren't ever able to determine the difference between the options. (except for the string cheese version). And amazingly each stand sells seemingly identical offerings, and yet business seems to be booming.

We bought a small piece from a promising looking vendor, and while we enjoyed the chewy texture and the very salty smoky flavor, there's really only so much smoked street cheese we could eat.

We spent a lot of time in Poland wondering why the locals weren't a bit more friendly toward us. We'd thought that it was perhaps the language barrier and our inability to master even a simple thank you. But in retrospect, at least in Zakopane, perhaps it was because we weren't constantly carrying around little baggies of oscypek. Perhaps without being armed with smoked cheese we were clearly not Poles...

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