Brânză de Burduf is a traditional cheese made from a mix of sheep’s and cow’s milk by herders in Transylvania, particularly around Bran. The cheese is wrapped in fir bark before being aged.
The tradition of transhumance, the seasonal migration of livestock, is still very alive on the slopes of the Bucegi mountains, one of the highest groups of the Carpathians. In the spring, the herders climb up to the wooden stane (mountain huts), which are built above the fir woods, at altitudes as high as 2,000 meters above sea level.
They spend the whole summer here with their animals, milking them by hand three times a day. Each milking is used to make cheeses of various types: Brânză de Burduf, Telemea (a fresh cheese similar to Greek feta), Caşcaval, Caş and Urda (ricotta).
The two locally farmed sheep breeds are the Tigae and the Turcana. These hardy, thick-fleeced breeds are well suited to the mountain pastures, most of which can only be reached by steep, narrow paths. Roads are rare and the animals (including the small, hardy, local cows) are taken up to the pastures through the dense forest.
Brânză de Burduf is typically eaten on its own, while Caș, which forms its base, is commonly used in Romanian mountain cooking, for example as a filling for bile de mămăligă (balls of corn polenta which the local herders cook directly over the fire in their stane).
Making Caș is the first step to making Brânză de Burduf. Caș is obtained by curdling the milk with lamb or veal rennet, then leaving the curd to drain in a cloth, under a weight.
Over the next hours, the curd is removed and broken up three times, then eventually placed, without salt, in a fir wood tub (putină), where it remains for up to two weeks. Over time, the curd ferments and acidifies.
Following this process, the tub is turned out and the mass is cut into vertical slices and ground up with salt.
This mixture is used to fill cylinders made from coaja de brad (fir or pine bark). The bark, trimmed of the woodiest part and softened in hot whey, is sown closed with string to form a cylinder 25 centimeters tall and 10 centimeters in diameter, closed at each end with a disk of bark.
Brânză de Burduf is only made from May to July, when the trees are growing and full of resin and the bark is soft enough so that it does not break when bent. The cheese can be eaten after being aged for a minimum of 20 days and a maximum of 2 months. Over time it acquires a more marked piquancy, and the fir bark gives the cheese very pronounced resiny notes and enhances its sensory qualities.
Cheese production is one of the main activities in the Bucegi mountains. The sheep and cattle herds in the pastures belong to several owners. At the end of the season in the mountains, they give the herders lambs and some of the cheese produced in the summer as payment. Slow Food has started a Presidium to defend traditional Brânză cheese produced in this area.
Photo — Alberto Peroli