This post is part of a wider material about Romanian gastronomy. Learn about the best Romanian food and drinks in our material: The best Romanian food and drinks: An Honest Introduction to Romanian Cuisine from a Local Foodie
Telemea stands out as perhaps the most widely enjoyed cheese in Romania. This semi-hard delight has a white hue and a salty kick, prepared from the milk of sheep, cows, goats, or buffaloes. There are two variations of telemea: the fresh variant, lightly salted, and the mature version, submerged in brine at around 20% concentration for a minimum of 22 days. 2 types of telemea, Telemeaua de Ibanesti (from cow’s milk) and Telemeaua de Sibiu (from sheep’s milk) are products with a Protected Geographical Indication at the level of the European Union,
During the summer, telemea paired with tomatoes reigns supreme as the go-to appetizer. We elevate the experience by adding a touch of bacon and serving it alongside homemade bread, to get a culinary feast. Telemea also finds its perfect companion in mamaliga, and the aged version takes center stage in various pies or doughnuts, adding a distinctive and flavorful touch to these traditional Romanian dishes.
Telemea can be found almost everywhere in Romania, and our guests can have a sampling during our food tour of Sibiu.
2. Burduf de munte
Burduf cheese is a distinctive, salty, and fermented sheep’s cheese with a dense yet creamy texture, encased in a natural rind. The rind can vary, from sheepskin and sheep bladder to the unique touch of fir bark. The mountain variety, considered a premium assortment, boasts a 100% ecological pedigree. It is crafted from milk sourced exclusively from sheep grazing on alpine pastures at altitudes exceeding 1500 meters. Grazing at such heights is limited to a brief two-month window during the summer, making mountain bellows cheese a seasonal delicacy produced solely during this period.
Manufactured in mountain wooden huts, the cheese is transported down for sale when the sheep descend from the high-altitude pastures. This limited production and seasonal availability contribute to the slightly higher price tag. Bellows cheese finds its perfect pairing with polenta, particularly in traditional dishes such as balmos or bulz, where its distinctive flavor and texture shine through.
The traditional, artisanal methods employed in mountainous regions not only contribute to a unique flavor profile but also reflect a commitment to time-honored techniques and the use of high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. During our hiking tours in Transylvania, we get the chance to visit shepherd’s families and buy this delicious cheese straight from the producer.
Cașcaval, a semi-yellow cheese typically crafted from either cow’s or sheep’s milk, is a widely recognized delicacy spanning a vast region—from Italy to the Balkans. The cheese undergoes a meticulous process where the primary cheese, called caș is heat-treated and skillfully kneaded until it attains its distinctive firm structure. In terms of both texture and taste, the cașcaval bears a resemblance to Emmentaler, and its smoked variant holds a special place as my favorite. This versatile cheese finds its way onto sandwiches, cheese platters, and various culinary creations, but it truly shines when used in gratin dishes.
4. Brânza Horezu
Horezu cheese, a hard cheese made from pasteurized sheep’s milk sourced from farms in Sibiu and Vâlcea counties, is a distinctive product with a maturation period ranging from two to 12 months. Notably, its rind is adorned with details resembling an ear of wheat, adding to its visual appeal.
This cheese draws parallels with Manchego cheese produced in Spain, both in its production method and possibly in its flavor profile. Whether enjoyed as a snack, grated over salads, or incorporated into hot dishes, Horezu cheese pairs harmoniously with a variety of wines.
Nasal cheese is a soft delicacy crafted from fermented cow’s milk, and its unique maturation process occurs in the distinct microbiological environment of the natural cave in Țaga, Cluj county. Packaged in wooden containers, the cheese benefits from this material’s ability to preserve its distinctive aroma over an extended period.
What sets Nasal cheese apart is its extraordinary taste, attributed to the presence of a specific bacterium, Brevibacterium Linens. This bacterium naturally thrives only in the Țaga cave and, under optimal conditions of temperature and humidity, colonizes the cheese without requiring human intervention.
Characterized by a strongly flavored and spicy taste, a notable aroma, and a creamy texture, Nasal cheese is considered a delicacy. It can be enjoyed as an aperitif or dessert, ideally paired with dry red wines, fruits, or meats.
Urdă is a cheese crafted from the whey of sheep, cow, or buffalo milk, bearing a resemblance to Italian ricotta. Known for being a low-calorie, high-protein dairy product, it’s an excellent choice for those on weight loss journeys. The texture of urda is smooth, grainy, and crumbly, offering a delightful combination.
With fresh aromas and a mild, sweet, and milky flavor, urda finds a versatile place in the kitchen. It serves as a wonderful ingredient in desserts like pies, such as the traditional “plăcintă cu urdă,” or in pancakes. Additionally, it shines as a delectable filling for doughnuts, adding a rich and creamy element to these sweet treats.
7. Caș afumat or Cașcavea (smoked cheese)
Caș is a traditional Romanian fresh cheese, crafted from raw cow’s or sheep’s milk. The cheese-making process involves coagulating the milk with curd, followed by draining to separate the whey. This semi-soft cheese is typically unsalted or lightly salted, presenting itself in a pristine white color. Preserving it in brine transforms it into a cheese akin to telemea.
An alternative preservation method involves smoking, resulting in a salty, dry, and robust cheese. In mountain villages like those in Brasov and Arges counties, beechwood is exclusively used for smoking. In other regions, coniferous wood and sawdust may also be employed.
Cașcaveaua, another smoked caș variation, it’s an original product from Doftanei Valley. After being left to drain on a wooden grill, cașcaveaua takes on a distinct character. Cascaveaua stands on its own—it’s neither cascaval nor telemea, yet it encapsulates elements of both and perhaps a little extra as the shepherds from Doftana Valley like to say.
7. Sana (yogurth)
Sana is a traditional Romanian yogurth derived from the fermentation of cow, goat, or sheep milk with specific yeasts and bacteria. This includes strains like Lactobacillus acidophilus, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Through the fermentation process, these microorganisms convert lactose into lactic acid and alcohol, resulting in milk coagulation and the formation of a product with a denser and less sour consistency compared to kefir.
Notably, Sana offers a richer flavor profile due to the increased production of flavor substances during fermentation. It is typically developed using milk with a higher fat content, ranging from 3.5% to 4%. Beyond its taste, Sana can be a favorable option for individuals with lactose intolerance. The fermentation of lactose into lactic acid makes the product easier to digest, offering a palatable and potentially more tolerable alternative for those with lactose sensitivity.
Also, if you are looking for more traditional yoghurts that can be found on the shelves of supermarkets, look for Lapte Batut or Lapte Covasit.
Our tours taking us through the villages of Romania, are giving us the chance to meet farmers and small cheese producers who will be happy to receive us and offer us to taste their products.