Visit traditional shepherd’s huts in High Tatras, Spiš and Liptov, Slovakia
Slovakia is famous for its traditional bryndza cheese and other products from fresh sheep milk. There are also products from goat and cow milk or from mixture of all three. These are made in salaš [saelaesh] – the shepherd’s or herdsman’s huts. We bring you several tips where to go and meet shepherds and taste or buy cheese products.
The map above shows the submontane and mountain region of High Tatras and Spiš from region Liptov up to the eastern end of High Tatras. Except traditional salaš – a hut where you can buy sheep milk products (red); there are also restaurants with traditional dishes made from sheep cheese and milk. They are called koliba [koleebae] (orange).
Tradition of these huts dates back to the 14th century. This was the first wave. In this time Valasi – shepherds (original people from Bulgaria and mainly Romania) came to the unpopulated area of today’s Slovakia to settle down.
These people made living by pasturing sheep and making dairy products. As they were nomadic they gradually move to Slovakia and eastern Czech Republic, Moravia. When they entered to our land which was not populated much in that time, they settled down and set villages e.g. at foothills of the High Tatras, in Spiš region and in Liptov region.
What happened next…
Later, in the 16th century, the second wave occurred. Shepherds were invited to come to bring their traditions and great cheese. They settled down in Orava region. After all, all of them assimilated with the home population. However, the tradition of cheese production passed on future generations up to this day.
Before arrival of shepherds, local people pasture sheep in lowlands and graze them for meat, wool and skin. Hence, shepherds taught the locals to eat and produce milk and cheese and later other products.
As the mountain range of High Tatras lies in two states, cheese products are very well known also in Poland. Bryndza and sheep milk and cheeses are in their cuisine like at home.
In Slovak, there are two terms how to call a sheep care taker and milk producer = shepherd.
- pastier [paestyer] = the one who pastures and grazes sheep
- bača [batcha] = the main shepherd, the owner of salaš [saelaesh] = a hut
There are many products made from the sheep milk. They are no artificial elements including chemical preservatives added and so the products are very healthy. Moreover, they can treat some health problems as cholesterol, allergies and diabetes and also can serve as cancer prevention. It increases immunity and helps in strengthening bones. However, by pasteurization, the benefits lose their value.
Sheep milk is aways the starting product. From it you can make:
You can enjoy this product in raw state (fresh or smoked cheese) or use it in cooking. Fresh cheese could be salty or with garlic or red pepper.
Bryndza [brindtsa] cheese
This is perfect for halušky [halushky], gnocchi, or pirohy [peerohee], the traditional Slovak dish. You can make also brilliant spread from brynzda with red pepper and chives. This cheese is rather thick but still soft and smooth.
This could be used in salty and sweet version in pirohy, pasta or cakes. In Slovak, this is called tvaroh – [tvaeroh]. This cheese has small lumps but could be blended and smoothed.
This cheese could be either fresh or smoked and usually has an egg shape. Sometimes the surface is carved artistically.
This has similar taste and structure as oštiepok. As the Slovak name says, it is steamed cheese. It is rolled and can be either fresh or smoked.
These are long stripes of sheep cheese, could be either fresh or smoked.
They are basically nite, long stripes of sheep cheese, fresh or smoked, that are plaited into a plait, cheese scourge
This coud be either plain or with flavours.
This has been a traditional shepherd’s drink made out of milk. It is boiled whey from sheep milk. (Whey – srvátka [srvaetkae] – is a liquid that remains after milk curdled.)
Usually, except the cheese, you can buy also bread or baked pastry in the shepherd’s huts.
When you are in Slovakia you must definitely visit some shepherd’s hut and try traditional cheese. It has many versions and the taste is delicious.
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