Czech Food Classics: Marinated Hermelín
It is hard to dispute the fact that traditional Czech cuisine is very carnivorous. With the exception of desserts, most Czech food classics are meaty, filling dishes, such as vepřoknedlozelo (dumplings with sauerkraut and pork), svíčková (marinated sirloin), or španělské ptáčky (beef rolls). But there is one lighter, vegetarian dish that you are sure to find in nearly every Czech pub.
When looking to order a snack in a pub in Prague or any other Czech town, a good choice might be “nakládaný hermelín”, or pickled hermelín. Although it is served drenched in oil, this dish is lighter than most Czech foods. It is therefore ideal as quick refreshment for an active day of sightseeing or as a tasty bite to go with your Pilsner. It is also often one of the only meatless options on the menu in traditional Czech bars.
The eponymous hermelín is a Czech cheese that originated in the 1920s as a Bohemian imitation of the French camembert. In the years since, it has become a staple of Czech cuisine that can be grilled, fried or filled with vegetables. But hermelín is perhaps most often prepared in its pickled form, which is almost ubiquitous in Czech pubs and restaurants. It is usually served with bread and, of course, beer. Roman Paulus, one of Czechia’s most successful chefs, told Czech Radio that there is not one “correct” way to make nakládaný hermelín.
“There are many ways to do it. For instance, one relatively easy approach is to cut the hermelín into pieces and prepare some onions, garlic, and chili peppers. You then mix these ingredients into a kind-of salad that you can put into a glass or other type of enclosable container. Next, pour in oil and let the mixture marinate.
“I myself prefer a slightly different recipe. First, you cut the hermelín into two thin slices. Next, make a paste out of coarse grain mustard, garlic, and chili peppers, as well as some herbs, such as basil. Then, cover the cheese slices with the paste and stick them back together. You can also add more ingredients to the marinade, such as sliced onions, or some more garlic and chili peppers. Sometimes I also add rosemary or even a branch of thyme. Again, arrange everything neatly in the glass and cover it in sunflower oil.”
To gain the right flavour, the hermelín should be left to marinate in the fridge for around five days. After that, it is ready to be eaten. But Roman Paulus adds that the cheese can be stored for longer if handled properly.
“It is important to always take out the cheese with a clean fork or pair of pliers. If you keep it fully submerged in the oil in a well-closed container in the fridge, it should last for at least one month.”
Numerous English-language recipes on the internet illustrate that nakládaný hermelín has become a favourite not just for Czechs, but also among foreign visitors. Those looking to make the dish abroad can use camembert, which is nearly identical in taste and more likely to be found in supermarkets outside of Czechia. But, no matter if you eat it in a pub in Prague’s Old Town or half-way across the world, a well-made nakládaný hermelín is sure to give you a taste of Czechia.