Năsal: a delicious Transylvanian Cheese
We are in Romania. Năsal is a traditional local cheese bearing the same name as the village where it is produced in the Țaga commune, Cluj County. The soft and creamy cheese has been smear-ripened in caves since the Middle Ages.
According to a Transylvanian legend, the commune of Țaga was once controlled by a wealthy, cruel count. Under his rule, the people starved and, to feed themselves, one day, some farmers were forced to steal the count’s cheese for their children. They hid it in a cave near the Năsal village, and when they went back to the cave to retrieve the contraband cheese, they discovered it had changed colors, from white to reddish yellow, but to their surprise the taste was very good, despite the smell. Finally, the count found out and punished the peasants, but he kept the cheese from the cave, and began serving it to all his noble guests, proud of its exquisite taste. Shortly thereafter began storing his cheeses in the cave.
Probably the story is just a legend, but the cave is very real, and it remains the only place in the world that can produce this smear-ripened delicious cheese made from cow’s milk.
Năsal is a smear-ripened cheese, which means bacteria or fungus grows on the rind, imparting it with an especially strong flavor. Its characteristics and flavour are imparted by the unique microbiological conditions in which it is manufactured. The rock of the natural cave and the Brevibacterium linens bacteria which developed in it, together with the stable temperature and humidity, gives the cheese a deep and earthy flavor that’s impossible to re-create elsewhere. Brevibacterium linens is ubiquitously present also on the human skin, and it cause the foot odour!
Historically, Schilling János, an architect, purchased a farm in Năsal in the mid-19th century. He or his son, Schilling Ottó, started producing cheese in the farm cellars in the 19th century. The cheese became famous in Transylvania, and it was awarded a gold medal at the Paris World Expo. The farm was nationalised in 1948 and a smaller cheese factory was built in the village in 1954.
Today, the tradition of Năsal lives on, feeding off that dank, delicious foot bacteria that makes it uniquely Transylvanian. In addition, due to the very limited production of the cave, Năsal cheese is difficult to find outside of Transylvania. It is recommended to serve it with grapes, nuts, onions, or meat, and pair it with a Romanian dry red wine like Fetească Neagră.
Images from web – Google Research