Celebrating the Oscypek, Traditional Sheep Cheese

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To celebrate centuries of handmade cheese making, photographer Michal Korta spent three days capturing the process of creating Oscypek, a smoked cheese made from salted sheep milk. In the Tatra Mountains of Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, this special cheese has had its beginning in the 15th century.

The taste of the cheese depends on the time of year it was made and the herbs and grass eaten by the sheep. Some people claim the cheese is at its finest during the spring since the milk is full of fat. The Gorale (or highlanders) indigenous people along the southern Polish region of Podhale in the Tatra mountains hand make this distinct form of cheese. These people can also be found in Chicago, Illinois and spend weeks at a time outside their homes in wooden shelters looking after their herd. During the months of May to September, they start their day early in the morning milking the sheep three times a day.

The process starts by gathering each individual sheep to be treated for medicine and to then get their wool sheared. The Gorales milk the sheep by hand and mix the formula with cows milk. After heating it, the unpasteurized liquid is turned into cottage cheese, is repeatedly rinsed with hot salt water and is then squeezed by hand. It’s pressed into these decorative handmade wooden spindles and is left to sit in a brine filled barrel for one or two nights. Finally, the cheese is placed closed to the roof in a wooden hut and is cured in hot smoke for up to 14 days.

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