Hard cheese for Slovaks

In the north Slovak region of Liptov, some cheese makers fear the EU may do them out of a job. The region is well known for its special sheep's cheese - known as "bryndza". But the traditional method of preparing this delicacy is gradually dying out. And the blame is being placed on Brussels, which is demanding new hygiene rules... Martina Grenova went to Liptov to investigate...

The Liptov region is probably most famous for the production of the special "bryndza" cheese. The traditional way of preparing this sheep delicacy is gradually dying out, mainly thanks to various EU restrictive hygienic measures.

The genuine "bryndza" cheese is prepared from milk without the help of pasteurisation. In the past, the whole process was carried out in wooden cottages known as "salas". Today, only a few of them stick to this tradition. The majority of these dream-like looking wooden sheep-dairy farms have recently become more of an attraction for agro tourism.

"Sheep farming is not only for tourists. Sheep are farmed here for milk and meat but also because of hardly accessible grass areas in this vicinity."

Says Jan Janicek, chief of the Smrecany farm in north Slovakia. There are two different approaches to sheep cheese production in Slovakia. The modernisation of sheep farms according to European standards means machine milking and pasteurisation. The traditional veterans however say that cheese produced from pasteurised milk looses its specific taste. According to some experts, the "bryndza" cheese also looses its healing effects. Juraj Valko has been a shepherd for 35 years.

A lot of has changed in 35 years, hasn't it?

"Too much has changed. First, we prepared cheese and special milk drinks in here. Now, everything is new. We even milk the sheep with machines."

What is better? Or rather, which one is tastier?

"Well, the hand made products were tastier. You know that's how it is in nature. I've been observing it since I was a little boy so I am sure about what is better."

The genuine bryndza cheese expiratory period is only 14 days. Prolonging the period of preserving its quality is one of the reasons why milk pasteurisation can help this product to be successful on foreign markets. Small cheese farms oppose modernisation of their technology not only because of endangered traditional craft but also because of expensive innovation of necessary devices. The Smrecany farm is the first one in the famous Liptov region applying completely the modern way of "bryndza" production.

"We will be a little bit ahead after entering the EU. The cheese production at this farm is closely watched by the national veterinary authorities. Slovak hygienic measures are very strict. They are even stricter than the European standards. However, the traditional farms will face many problems after we enter the union."

The European Union gave Slovakia an exception to produce bryndza in the traditional way. However, the bryndza cheese to be exported to the EU markets has to be pasteurised. Big farms succumbed to European pressure. Small entrepreneurs try to turn traditional production into a marketing hit. They require more distinctive signs of home made non-pasteurised quality in the product.