Bradet Smoked Stretched-Curd Cheese – A Must-Eat in Romania
Making Bradet Cheese – A Daily Task For Many Romanian Farm Families From Brăduleț
Those who have chanced to visit the villages which nestle in the foothills of the Făgăraș mountains must have noticed that the chief occupation of the population consists of cheese making, the making of one particular cheese, namely, the Brădet stretched-curd cheese.
For the locals of Brădulet commune in the north-western part of Arges County, cheese is not only nutritious food, it brings them together as a community. This employment enables over 90 percent of the families to be breadwinners. The making of cheese comes as part of the daily routine of everyday life, it is literally the daily bread for many people who obtain a healthful and interesting outdoor occupation and at the same time add a little to their incomes while living in their village homes. To support the small producers, the Brăduleț Cheese Festival was organized in 2008 as a market-tapping event and a great surprise to all the cheese lovers visiting Argeș.
The Brădet cheese is a medium-hard stretched-curd cheese that originated in this area around 1900, in Galeș, a village of settlers from Mărginimea Sibiului. The Brădet cheese was first called by its present name between 1957 and 1960 when the first production center was opened in Brădet, where the product took its name from. The Brădet stretched-curd cheese is completely natural, healthy, and authentic, with no additives and preservatives. In 1969, during The Paris Salon International de L’Alimentation, a trade fair dedicated to the food processing industry, the cheese was sampled by President of France, General Charles de Gaulle, and earned his appreciation.
Savu Mădălina and her husband, Savu Constantin, dwell in the village of Galeș, in a country homestead that sits in idyllic scenery, with garden back and front, garden all round about, and where the garden leaves off the orchard begins, and beyond the orchard are paddocks and hillslopes, brooks and hedgerows.
The nature of their occupation might be seen in the many animals, cows, and sheep, pasturing on their land and in the wooden smokehouse built by the man himself, where cheese is cured with smoke. It is six pm and the cows are fetched from the field for the evening milking. Constantin first cleans the teats with a water solution, then he milks the cows by hand.
The Multi-Step Process Of Making Stretched Curd Cheese
“The Brădet stretched-curd cheese is made exclusively from cow’s milk”, says his wife, Mădălina, while she warms up the milk collected. “When the milk reaches a temperature between 32 and 35 degrees C, rennet is added. The ratio is 5 ml of rennet to about 10 liters of milk. We stir very well for the rennet to be well mixed into the milk.”
The milk is allowed to stand between 45 and 60 minutes, until the curds form. Meanwhile, we sit and chat about how they took on cheesemaking.
“During my high school years, my parents included me and my sister in farm work. We were living in a rented house in Pitești and doing the farmwork over the weekend. I always loved cheese making”, remembers Mădălina, a working mother of two children and pregnant with their third baby. To help his wife, Constantin is balancing farming and a full-time job at a cheese factory, and in his spare time, he reads stories to their children.
Now that the milk has curdled, Mădălina breaks the curds into small bits, ever so slowly, until the curds are the size of rice grains.
“I let curds settle to the bottom of the pot, then I slowly press the curds together into a ball. I bring the curds up and out in cheesecloth. I hang it to drain until evening. Then I place it in a bowl to ripen 24-48 hours before stretching. From 10-12 liters of milk, you get a kg of cheese.”
The ripening time depends on many factors, like room temperature. In summer it ripens in 24 hours, but in winter it takes up to 48 hours. To test the curd, she sinks a bit of it in hot water. If it stretches, that means it’s ripe. She cuts it into slices of 0.5 cm thickness and adds hot water to cover it completely, then kneads them with a wooden spoon.
„I knead until it’s so firm you can’t push your hand into it. Then it’s cut into portions and shaped manually – nice and round on top, straight bottom. The pieces are given their final shape in molds, then they are brined for 12-24 hours. Brine is a solution of salt in water. I use mine salt from Vâlcea, not marine salt, that doesn’t work for making artisan cheese”, explains Mădălina.
Smoking Cheese In The Smokehouse Using Traditional Methods
After they are left to dry for several days, the cheese is smoked from several hours to a full day. Smoking cheese in the smokehouse has its secrets, and Mădălina agrees to reveal some of them.
“The wood used must be green or wet, so it doesn’t make a big flame. Alder and plum are the best woods for smoking. They have a subtle sweet flavor. I start the fire, then I keep it going with two, three logs at a time. Then I add wet fir shavings on the coals to tone down the fire, so it doesn’t release a lot of heat. The fire is smoldering, not in flames. We avoid smoking with big flames, that’s why the cheese is placed at a good distance from the fire. If it’s too close to the fire, it melts.”
By the end of the day, Mădălina opens the door of the smokehouse and turns around holding a freshly smoked cheese.
„This is the finished product. We allow one week for it to ripen, after which it is ready to eat. If stored properly, it can last up to 3 months”, says Mădălina.
The cheese is a little warm and has a lovely golden color. It is sweet and buttery, and the subtle smoke flavor is insane!
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