Straight Dope Message Board

Straight Dope Message Board (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/index.php)
-   Cafe Society (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/forumdisplay.php?f=13)
-   -   Can I buy oscypek (smoked Polish cheese) in the US? (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=878708)

purplehorseshoe 07-13-2019 08:38 AM

Can I buy oscypek (smoked Polish cheese) in the US?
 
If not, why not?

I'll be in Chicago for several days, about a month from now, and I'm determined to get my mitts onto some oscypek. But googling - even in Polish - has turned up zero sources for the spindle shaped, elaborately carved, smoked, sheep's milk based deliciousness.

I assume import regulations are cock-blocking me, but does anyone know the details?

Or another angle: I'll be in the epicenter of Polish-American society, and I can read the language & speak it pretty fluently. I'm also very familiar with the concept of "cwaniak" which has no good translation into English but connotes a cavalier disregard for rules made by The Man esp. if there's some profit in it for you, as long as you don't get caught, of course.

Perhaps someone has clandestine knowledge of a deli tucked into a hidden corner somewhere, and a secret knock or password lets them know I'm here to buy the good stuff?

Since oscypek isn't sold on Amazon, should I assume there's no official source for it in the U.S. at all? (I am not averse to unofficial sources, if someone's babcia is flying in to visit from The Old Country soon.)

Please don't make me go all Martha Stewart and try to make the stuff at home myself.

Joey P 07-13-2019 09:41 AM

How badly do you want it? You're about 90 minutes from Milwaukee. Try calling Mars Cheese Castle, they're probably 20 minutes across the border. There's also the West Allis Cheese Shop and, being in Wisconsin, some of the big box stores (Meijer, Woodman's etc) may have it.
I'd also suggest you try calling Vern's Cheese in Chilton WI or Knaus Cheese (also called Weyauwega/Star Dairy) in Rosendale, WI.
And there's countless other cheese shops in the area. Since it's Polish, you might want to start with a Polish deli/meat market and see what they have to say.

PS. If you do call Vern's or Knaus and they have it, I may be able to facilitate getting it to you if they won't/can't ship it. I get deliveries from both of those places every week so it's no big deal for them to deliver it to me.

pulykamell 07-13-2019 10:42 AM

I don't think I've ever seen Oscypek at Mars Cheese Castle or any of the usual cheese places in Wisconsin. And I've never seen it at Woodman's or any place like that. This is what the stuff looks like, and it's sold as a whole piece usually (perhaps you can sometimes get it cut in half--I'm not sure, but I think I've only seen entire logs of it being sold.)

Anyhow, some of the Polish groceries should have it. There's one by my house, Shop & Save, at Archer and Central that regularly carries it. I'll have a look for you if they have it today if I have some time to go out there. Where abouts are you staying? I could perhaps give you leads, though the southwest side of Chicago is more of the góral/Highlander area than the northwest side Poles, so you'll probably have better luck in my neck of the city.

Now, whether it's 100% authentic-to-the-letter oscypek, I don't know for sure. Even in Poland, there's a lot of knock-off oscypek that doesn't hew completely to the rules being sold. But it is imported from Poland, and is identifiable by look and taste as oscypek.

pulykamell 07-13-2019 10:48 AM

Actually, I thought this was ringing a bell. We talked about it a bit back in this thread. (Post #78 is where I check the Shop & Save at Archer & Central and report back.)

QuickSilver 07-13-2019 10:50 AM

So you all knew about this cheese and have been holding out on me??...

I see how you are.

ETA:
Quote:

Originally Posted by pulykamell (Post 21748123)
Actually, I thought this was ringing a bell. We talked about it a bit back in this thread. (Post #78 is where I check the Shop & Save at Archer & Central and report back.)

Not much of a cheese thread, is it?...

MikeG 07-13-2019 10:54 AM

Deli 4 You, Richards, and Montrose Deli all say they have it but my Polish coworkers warm me that don’t expect the same artisanal stuff you’d find in the mountains.

Even in Zakopane which is a famous and popular mountain town, most of the oscypek cheese is colored with coffee to mimic the smoked product. Still good but the real stuff is pretty hard to come by.

I’m intrigued now so I’ll do a little footwork and see what I can come up with.

Eta so basically what pulykamell said but in the NW side:).

pulykamell 07-13-2019 10:58 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by MikeG (Post 21748131)

Even in Zakopane which is a famous and popular mountain town, most of the oscypek cheese is colored with coffee to mimic the smoked product. Still good but the real stuff is pretty hard to come by.

I find that weird (though I do believe it), because the smoked taste is so immediately identifiable. You'd certainly be able to tell from the first taste, I would think. Anyhow, the oscypek I've bought here was definitely smoked. I can check with my parents tomorrow (my dad is from Zakopane, and my mother worked there for years), and they tend to know the delis pretty well on at least this side of town, so I'll see if they have any recommendations.

Joey P 07-13-2019 11:01 AM

Check Trader Joes/Outpost/Whole Foods.

Also, go to a small mom n pop type deli or specialty food store and *ask* them. If they don't have it, they can talk to their vendors and possibly bring some in for you.

pulykamell 07-13-2019 11:02 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Joey P (Post 21748136)
Check Trader Joes/Outpost/Whole Foods.

I guarantee you none of those places will have oscypek. It is an extremely niche cheese specifically sought by the Polish community. I have never in my life seen it anywhere outside a Polish deli.

purplehorseshoe 07-13-2019 11:17 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pulykamell (Post 21748123)
Actually, I thought this was ringing a bell. We talked about it a bit back in this thread. (Post #78 is where I check the Shop & Save at Archer & Central and report back.)

I was indeed thinking of that thread, and figured you specifically might have some leads. I just needed the exact name & location of the store.

Thanks for the tips!

pulykamell 07-13-2019 11:26 AM

OK, I messaged my cousin, whose entire family hails from the Zakopane area (married a Highlander as well), and while she says usually she just gets it from people coming from Poland or when she visits Poland, she was happy with the oscypek sold at Lassak's. There's a location in Palos Hills and one in Willowbrook. I would call ahead just to be sure. I haven't been there, so it's quite possible it's all the same stuff being sold everywhere--I'm not sure if there are multiple suppliers for the cheese here.

Snowboarder Bo 07-13-2019 02:01 PM

I had never heard of this cheese but it looks and sounds delicious. My buddy and his family are back in Illinois/Wisconsin. I asked them to try and bring me some. I just hope it isn’t made with rennet.

pulykamell 07-13-2019 02:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Snowboarder Bo (Post 21748348)
I had never heard of this cheese but it looks and sounds delicious. My buddy and his family are back in Illinois/Wisconsin. I asked them to try and bring me some. I just hope it isn’t made with rennet.

It is typically made with rennet. The best I could find online in Polish is that either animal or synthetic rennet is used, but that manufacturers don’t usually state what source it is. So unless explicitly stated, I would assume an animal source for purposes of vegetarianism.

pulykamell 07-13-2019 04:18 PM

I stopped by the Shop & Save on Central & Archer that I mentioned before, but they do not have oscypek right now. There's usually a cooler near the deli that has a selection of imported Highlander foods, but that's been replaced with a cooler of prepared meals. I looked in the cheese section, and they do have gołka, which is a pretty much a cow-milk-only version of oscypek ($9.39 for a first-sized portion). But no oscypek currently. So definitely call around to ask.

ETA: Oh, as for the gołka, I did check the ingredients to see if there was any mention of rennet. The original English/Polish ingredients list did not even mention rennet, but the sticker on top in English listed "microbiology rennet," which I assume is microbial rennet, which would be okay for Bo if he's looking for something oscypek-adjacent.

purplehorseshoe 07-14-2019 03:23 PM

Wow, thanks for going to such lengths for me! That's very kind of you.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit, I've never heard of the other version (goral) before. Does it taste similar?

Snowboarder Bo 07-14-2019 03:29 PM

Cheese lovers totally fucking rock! Thanks for the info, pulykamell!

pulykamell 07-14-2019 04:22 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by purplehorseshoe (Post 21749766)
Wow, thanks for going to such lengths for me! That's very kind of you.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit, I've never heard of the other version (goral) before. Does it taste similar?

I’m at my folks right now, and they also agreed with Lassak in Willowbrook. As for gólka, it’s milder. Still smoky and salty, but without that sheep milk vibe. With the Oscypek, like I said, call ahead to check, as they haven’t been there recently, but that’s where they’ve bought it before.

jnglmassiv 07-15-2019 12:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pulykamell (Post 21748123)
(Post #78 is where I check the Shop & Save at Archer & Central and report back.)

There's another Shop & Save across from Superdawg which is pretty convenient to Ohare and I-90/Kennedy Expressway. Also, get a Superdawg! Another one to check Rich's Food & Liquor on Harlem at Lawrence (or is it Gunnison over there?) in Harwood Heights, also easy from the highway and Ohare. Andy's Deli on Milwaukee is another one if you can survive the parking lot. Avoid that one on the weekends.

Snowboarder Bo 07-15-2019 03:24 PM

The Polish Deli here in Las Vegas doesn’t have any at the moment, but theydo get it. I have to check again in 3-4 weeks. :D

purplehorseshoe 07-15-2019 07:22 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Snowboarder Bo (Post 21751882)
The Polish Deli here in Las Vegas doesn’t have any at the moment, but theydo get it. I have to check again in 3-4 weeks. :D

There's a Polish deli in Vegas? No kidding.

jnglmassiv 07-15-2019 07:28 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jnglmassiv (Post 21751569)
Another one to check Rich's Food & Liquor on Harlem at Lawrence (or is it Gunnison over there?) in Harwood Heights, also easy from the highway and Ohare.

Cross Rich's off the list. I stopped in but didn't see oscypek. They do have about five varieties of *copies, pastes* gołka which were similarly tan and impressed with patterns.

Snowboarder Bo 07-15-2019 07:29 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by purplehorseshoe (Post 21752322)
There's a Polish deli in Vegas? No kidding.

Aye and it’s just called Polish Deli. The lady I spoke with was super nice, too.

jnglmassiv 07-17-2019 10:35 PM

I don't often get to shout the word but here goes: Jackpot!

Shop & Save on Milwaukee and Devon and Nagle had no fewer than four products listed as 'oscypek.' Now, I'm maybe only a little less Polish than a taco and I can't promise any authenticity or quality with any of this but it seems promising. I also hope these image links work out.

First was the pinched cylinder one that I understand is the usual shape.
It was the largest and pretty pricey at $19.99:
https://imgur.com/a/cPKdpKC

Next was this smaller cylindrical shaped cheese, maybe half or two-thirds the size of a 12oz beverage can.
https://imgur.com/a/L3labtF
Back of the package showing impressed pattern:
https://imgur.com/a/FwAs8vA

Here's one labeled 'covna oscypek' with a corncob looking grid pattern:
https://imgur.com/a/KpFQV3h
Puly can probably differentiate.

Finally, there were these little guys, maybe half the size of my palm but very flat.
I think they were about half an inch thick.
https://imgur.com/a/e2swZ8Z

My recommendation: Go here, buy some cheese and other goodies. It's a great store to wander around and give into your central and eastern European impulse buys. Then, go across the street and get a Superdawg or whatever looks good on the menu. Superdawg is a longtime Chicago institution and a decent representation of a local dog.

jnglmassiv 07-17-2019 10:46 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jnglmassiv (Post 21756619)
Shop & Save on Milwaukee and Devon and Nagle had no fewer than four products listed as 'oscypek.'

Shoot, I forgot a FIFTH variety that they also had. White oscypek - not smoked:
https://imgur.com/a/IBlKrr2

purplehorseshoe 07-18-2019 12:27 AM

Man, just when I could not be more impressed by all my Doper buddies... thanks so much, to all of you. I have a IMHO thread going for Chicago recommendations, but this was honestly one of the things I was looking forward to the most. Imma bring as much damn cheese home with me as I can physically carry.

I guess I could poke around for recipes or fancy ways to use it, but let's face it. Slice, insert into mouth. That's pretty much gonna be it.

Y'all are the BEST!

Snowboarder Bo 07-18-2019 02:57 AM

I'm actively salivating looking at jnglmassiv's pics.

pulykamell 07-18-2019 09:21 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jnglmassiv (Post 21756619)
I don't often get to shout the word but here goes: Jackpot!

Shop & Save on Milwaukee and Devon and Nagle had no fewer than four products listed as 'oscypek.' Now, I'm maybe only a little less Polish than a taco and I can't promise any authenticity or quality with any of this but it seems promising. I also hope these image links work out.

First was the pinched cylinder one that I understand is the usual shape.
It was the largest and pretty pricey at $19.99:
https://imgur.com/a/cPKdpKC

Next was this smaller cylindrical shaped cheese, maybe half or two-thirds the size of a 12oz beverage can.
https://imgur.com/a/L3labtF
Back of the package showing impressed pattern:
https://imgur.com/a/FwAs8vA

Here's one labeled 'covna oscypek' with a corncob looking grid pattern:
https://imgur.com/a/KpFQV3h
Puly can probably differentiate.

Finally, there were these little guys, maybe half the size of my palm but very flat.
I think they were about half an inch thick.
https://imgur.com/a/e2swZ8Z

My recommendation: Go here, buy some cheese and other goodies. It's a great store to wander around and give into your central and eastern European impulse buys. Then, go across the street and get a Superdawg or whatever looks good on the menu. Superdawg is a longtime Chicago institution and a decent representation of a local dog.

Nice find!

pulykamell 07-18-2019 01:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by purplehorseshoe (Post 21756735)
I guess I could poke around for recipes or fancy ways to use it, but let's face it. Slice, insert into mouth. That's pretty much gonna be it.

That's pretty much the only way I've ever eaten it: straight, with a refreshing beverage to wash it down. I've heard sometimes people will grill it and serve it with cranberries (or similar), but I think that's a more recent manner of eating it.

Folly 07-18-2019 01:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jnglmassiv (Post 21756619)
I don't often get to shout the word but here goes: Jackpot!

Shop & Save on Milwaukee and Devon and Nagle had no fewer than four products listed as 'oscypek.'

Heeeeey, my local grocery store. I'll have to try the oscypek sometime.

pulykamell 07-18-2019 02:22 PM

In addition to the rec for Superdawg, if you’re in the mood for Polish food and go to that Shop N Save, I would recommend Smak-Tak on Elston, just a bit southeast of that Shop and Save. There’s also a soon-to-be only outpost of the Red Apple a bit north of Devon if you want something buffet style. Red Apple is solid (though I’ve only been to the Avondale location near Belmont and Milwaukee), but Smak-Tak is tops in my book.

jnglmassiv 07-18-2019 08:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Folly (Post 21757554)
Heeeeey, my local grocery store. I'll have to try the oscypek sometime.

Hi diddily ho, neighborino! The Butera in Harwood Hts is technically my closest grocery but I go to Shop & Save pretty regularly. My hands down favorite is the Fresh Farms on Touhy in Niles, though.

Quote:

Originally Posted by pulykamell (Post 21757659)
... I would recommend Smak-Tak on Elston ... Red Apple is solid ...

Agree, both are great. I've got a funny story about my first trip to Red Apple. I'd never been and, while my girlfriend at the time had visited before, it was years earlier though she remembered it was good. So we went and were seated near the front of the restaurant in a sort of odd, empty corner. Our drink order was taken and served, then we waited and waited and waited for a staff member to come take our order or give up menus, anything. My girl had forgotten it was a buffet. Luckily, before I blew my stack on the employees, we noticed another patron carrying a plate of food and it finally clicked.

Royal Nonesutch 07-19-2019 10:28 AM

The universal consensus of my Krakow friends is that in 2019, virtually all commercially available oscypek here in Poland is markedly different and inferior to what it was 40 or 50 years ago, as it is now a (relatively) large cottage industry and that many manufacturers illicitly cut corners, specifically using mostly cow milk instead of the traditional (and much more expensive) sheep (and possibly goat as well) milk, even though they still illegally label it as the real thing.

For me, when I go to the Highlands, where it is sold at 100's (perhaps 1000's) of roadside stands, some literally 10 feet away from each other, I usualy pick up a little bit and then reminded why I never buy it here at home in Krakow.

I LIKE salt and salty foods, and feta cheese is something that I can't get enough of, but most oscypek is almost inedible, due to the extreme amount of salt it soaks up in the brining process.

pulykamell 07-19-2019 10:44 AM

Yes, oscypek has very stringent rules: it's supposed to be at least 60% sheep milk, and only made with milk from sheep grazing between April and October, or something like that.

If you want to read the EU rules about what can be legally labeled oscypek there, read away here. (It even outlines the entire method of production, which is fun reading.)

Even the stuff you get in the Highlands of Poland can have a lot of shortcuts. I personally have no idea how much of the oscypek I've eaten in my life is truly to-the-letter oscypek, but there is a range of flavor. As Royal Nonesutch describes, it can get quite salty, with a clear "sheep milk" taste to it. Like I said above, enjoy it with your favorite beverage. It's not my favorite cheese by a long shot, but it's interesting from time to time.

Just Asking Questions 07-19-2019 10:57 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by purplehorseshoe (Post 21752322)
There's a Polish deli in Vegas? No kidding.

I'm surprised there's not a Polish Deli themed casino. They have virtually everything else.

Royal Nonesutch 07-19-2019 11:24 AM

I assume that probably everyone reading this already knows that at least here in Poland, oscypek is traditionally served and eaten hot, warmed on a small charcoal grill and then slathered with cranberry jam, which I assume is used to help cut the overwhelming saltiness, but as I don't care for cranberry too much, it isn't of any help to me.

pulykamell 07-19-2019 03:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Royal Nonesutch (Post 21759271)
I assume that probably everyone reading this already knows that at least here in Poland, oscypek is traditionally served and eaten hot, warmed on a small charcoal grill and then slathered with cranberry jam, which I assume is used to help cut the overwhelming saltiness, but as I don't care for cranberry too much, it isn't of any help to me.

Huh I guess it’s been about fifteen years since I’ve been in Poland, but my dad and his whole family is from Zakopane and I’ve never had it served that way. (And I’ve been to Zakopane about ten times.) Always cold, as a slice. I am familiar with it being served that way but, at least among my Oscypek eating family and family friends, only raw. Maybe they were just lazy.:)

pulykamell 07-19-2019 03:46 PM

I should say, though, now I want to try some grilled with cranberry and see if I like it any more served that way. For us, it was usually part of a meat and cheese plate to nosh on while you’re drinking adult beverages (we’d have oscypek, kabanos, perhaps some other kind of sausage, picked stuff, and open faced sandwiches at all our family and friends parties growing up. Nobody ever drank without a spread of some sort at the table to help soak up some of the booze.)

Royal Nonesutch 07-19-2019 04:44 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pulykamell (Post 21759803)
I should say, though, now I want to try some grilled with cranberry and see if I like it any more served that way. For us, it was usually part of a meat and cheese plate to nosh on while you’re drinking adult beverages (we’d have oscypek, kabanos, perhaps some other kind of sausage, picked stuff, and open faced sandwiches at all our family and friends parties growing up. Nobody ever drank without a spread of some sort at the table to help soak up some of the booze.)

Besides the large cylinders, oscypek is sold in little ingots, about the size of a silver dollar, except oblong, about a half-inch thick that are perfect for the grilling treatment that I mentioned.

At every Polish street festival, concert, outdoor market, or other similar gathering, and also on the streets in the cold winter months, there are little carts (something like a NYC hot-dog cart) with small grills selling it with the cranberry puree as a hot snack, usually something like 5 or 6 Zloty ($1.50) for 3 pieces, which in Poland is actually fairly expensive for what it is, but it is apparently a popular item nonetheless.

(It might also be wrapped with bacon, now that I think about it)

pulykamell 07-19-2019 05:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Royal Nonesutch (Post 21759894)
Besides the large cylinders, oscypek is sold in little ingots, about the size of a silver dollar, except oblong, about a half-inch thick that are perfect for the grilling treatment that I mentioned.

At every Polish street festival, concert, outdoor market, or other similar gathering, and also on the streets in the cold winter months, there are little carts (something like a NYC hot-dog cart) with small grills selling it with the cranberry puree as a hot snack, usually something like 5 or 6 Zloty ($1.50) for 3 pieces, which in Poland is actually fairly expensive for what it is, but it is apparently a popular item nonetheless.

(It might also be wrapped with bacon, now that I think about it)

Yeah, I've seen the little ones. We always just had the traditional spindle shaped ones. (I thought the little ones had a different name -- it's escaping me right now; legally oscypek must be between 600g and 800g, at least according to the certification authorities. I know all sorts of stuff gets sold as "oscypek," though. For that matter, I have no idea how much of the oscypek I've had from Zakopane is by-the-books oscypek. I know the stuff I've had ranges quite a bit in smokiness and hardness. Most of the stuff I've had is quite hard, firmer than a cheddar, but not quite as dry as a parmesan. But I've also had stuff that was much younger and had, at least to me, a much more pleasant "fresh ewe's milk" flavor to it.)

It would make sense, of course, if serving it on the street or at a restaurant, you'll want to dress it up a bit and not just serve a chunk of cheese. At home, like I said, always cold, just sliced with a meat/deli tray is the only way I've had it.

I do think it would do well grated like a pecorino over pasta, though. Maybe a cacio e pepe type of dish with grated oscypek instead of pecorino. It's odd, as I don't recall ever coming across this cheese being used as a grating cheese, but it seems like it should do well as one for the reasons you stated: it's really salty on its own, but as a salt-and-smoke accent to a dish, along with a bit of ewe-y cheesy funk, I think it would do great.

purplehorseshoe 08-04-2019 12:23 PM

*bump*
My I.T. Guy had to be in Chicago for a business trip, so he got to be my "preview" tester. Shop and Save was a bit far for where he was staying, so on a local employee recommendation, he bought me a couple of cryopacked 4-packs of the little palm sized oscypek (plus some other goodies) at ...

*drum roll*

Helen's Deli, on Irving Park Rd in Wood Dale.

The pictures he sent are astonishing. So much stuff packed behind a modest storefront - meats, cheeses, bread, candy, and so damn much chocolate! Looking forward to visiting in person, in a couple weeks. In the meantime, om nom nom ...

amaguri 08-06-2019 02:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by purplehorseshoe (Post 21788733)
*bump*

Helen's Deli, on Irving Park Rd in Wood Dale.

The pictures he sent are astonishing. So much stuff packed behind a modest storefront - meats, cheeses, bread, candy, and so damn much chocolate! Looking forward to visiting in person, in a couple weeks. In the meantime, om nom nom ...

aww! I live in San Diego now but I spent the first 3 decades of my life in the Chicagoland area and used to work just down the street from Helen's. We'd go there for lunch periodically and it was always an experience. Great pierogi! Kinda strange just seeing it pop up in a random thread I clicked on :)

Dorjän 08-08-2019 11:54 AM

True oscypek would have to be imported. I prefer serki góralskie, which is extremely similar, and can be made locally.

purplehorseshoe 08-08-2019 07:24 PM

... and where do you buy it?


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 04:54 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2019 STM Reader, LLC.