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Every avid traveller knows that a trip to a local supermarket can be as telling about the place’s customs as visiting a museum. From glocalized products from large corporations to artisanal items only available in small batches, produce is an integral part of food culture. First time visitors to Poland, or Polish shops abroad, can be struck by the richness of their diary sections. Use our guide to help navigate the dairy products of any Polish grocery store.
Before you scroll down with disgust on your face, wondering why would anyone drink spoiled milk, hear us out. Soured milk can only be made with raw milk, so whatever substance resides in your old milk carton, that’s not it. Due to the naturally occurring fermentation process, the sweet flavour turns sour and the milk splits into layers of curd and whey. In addition, pressing soured milk makes home-made cottage cheese. Given that raw milk is hard to come by nowadays, especially in large cities, dairy manufacturers make packaged sour milk, usually sold in 500 ml cups.
Soured milk is typically served during the summer, as a cold, protein-rich drink which accompanies a plate of new potatoes, seasonal vegetables or buckwheat, perfect for a quick, hassle-free and refreshing meal. It can also make for a good base for milkshakes, as the fruits break up the sourness.
Contrary to the fatty sounding name, buttermilk is not butter mixed with milk. Quite the opposite, in fact, buttermilk is the liquid leftover from churning butter out of cream. With low fat percentage and a satisfying thick texture, buttermilk has had its renaissance in recent years as it is a great diet-friendly product.
Similarly to soured milk, buttermilk is typically served during hot summer days with seasonal vegetables or as a base for filling milkshakes and smoothie bowls.
Poland is the second biggest producer of this fermented milk drink after Russia. Made with kefir ‘grains’ or yeast/bacterial fermentation starter and skimmed, pasteurised milk, kefir is a natural probiotic, great for anyone with digestive issues, as it stops the development of harmful bacteria. It is also believed to be a great hangover cure.
Apart from being served as a side to potato pancakes, light veggie lunches or muesli, kefir is used to prepare cold borscht (chłodnik), a traditional dish made from beet leaves and cucumbers.
One of the pillars of Polish cuisine, twaróg is used in both sweet and salty dishes. You can find it as a filling for crepes, yeast pastry topping or stuffing for pierogies. It is also the main ingredient in the traditional Polish cheesecake.
Made from aforementioned soured milk, twaróg is naturally tart. Its consistency depends on the fat percentage and can be anywhere from creamy to firm. Don’t confuse it with cottage cheese (serek wiejski), which is also really popular in Poland.
Traditional to Podhale, Poland’s southernmost region, bryndza is made from sheep milk and hence has a very distinct smell and salty flavour. As for the texture, depending on how it is prepared, it can be either quite crumbly or soft and spreadable. The fist mention of bryndza in Poland dates back to 1527. Bryndza Podhalańska was registered in the EU’s registry of traditional specialities in 2007.
Easily recognisable due to its oval shape, oscypek is a another cheese from the Tatra mountains. Made from unpasteurised sheeps milk which is first turned into cottage cheese and then pressed into wooden forms, oscypek receives its unique taste by being cured in hot smoke for up to 14 days. To fully appreciate this cheese try having it with a beer or place it on a grill and serve with a side of cranberries.