Bryndzové halušky is a traditional Slovak dish. It combines features of Italian gnocchi and southern German Käsespätzle or Austrian Kasnocken, as its main ingredients are potato dough and cheese.
Let’s start with the cheese, since it is a key component of this hearty meal. Slovaks use a special sheep’s milk cheese called bryndza, which is popular in a number of mountainous countries of eastern Europe, and especially in Slovakia, Poland and Romania. It is known as Brimsen in German, and ברינזע in Yiddish, and the name bryndza is borrowed from the Romanian brânză (‘cheese’), which was introduced by migrating Vlachs. The word presumably entered the Romanian language from Dacian, the language of the pre-Roman population in modern-day Romania. Outside Slovakia and the neighbouring regions of southern Poland, the cheese is still popular nowadays in the Czech Republic, where its name is spelled brynza.
There are three types of bryndza, each prepared differently and each giving the cheese a characteristic texture, taste and colour. Slovenská bryndza from Slovakia must have 50% sheep’s milk and in 2008 was included in the EU’s Register of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Another Slovak variety contains only sheep’s milk and is called liptovská or ovčia bryndza. Bryndza Podhalańska from Poland contains 60% sheep’s milk and has been registered by the EU as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
In Slovakia, the modern version of the soft spreadable bryndza is believed to have been developed towards the end of the 18th century by entrepreneurs from Stará Turá (western Slovakia). They established bryndza manufactures in mountainous regions of central and northern Slovakia, where sheep cheese production using wooden kegs for the ripening process had deep local roots. Subsequently, bryndza was popularised all around the Habsburg Empire through trade.
Generally, the cheese is quite salty and crumbly if standard salt is used, but some producers add saline solution to make it salty, which then changes the texture to soft and spreadable. It is white to grey in colour, tangy to taste and slightly moist. The flavour graph starts at fairly mild, going to strong and then fading with a salty finish.
The other indispensable ingredients of bryndzové halušky are potatoes, flour and bacon. So now to the recipe, which of course has its idiosyncratic features as all recipes do.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 5 medium potatoes (not newly harvested)
- 400 grams of all-purpose wheat flour
- 1 or 2 eggs (optional, for some it might be a bone of fierce ideological contention)
- 300 grams of smoked or regular bacon (in a block)
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 350 grams of bryndza
- chopped chives
Peel and cut the potatoes. Cut at least half a potato into little cubes, let them boil in water until cooked and put them aside. Grate the other raw potatoes on a fine grater so that what remains is almost like raw mashed potatoes. Add the egg(s), flour, salt and pepper. Mix everything until you get a thick dough that is neither too sticky nor too watery. It should easily stick to your spatula, which should itself stand straight up in the dough. If not, add more flour until it does. If you are preparing it for the first time, test a little dough in the water before pushing the rest in. If it falls apart, then the dough needs a little more flour to keep it together.
In the meantime, cut the bacon into small cubes and fry them with oil in a skillet on low heat until crisp and brown. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add some salt to it. In Slovak kitchens, a colander with large holes specifically designed for this type of pasta is used to drop the dough into the boiling water. If you do not have anything similar, you can put the dough on a cutting board and use a knife to cut small chunks into the water.
Let the halušky boil for a few minutes until they float to the surface and have changed colour. Pour over some cold water before straining the halušky and letting them drain for one minute. Put them in a bowl and add the bryndza, spreading it all around until the halušky are evenly coated. Sprinkle over the boiled potato cubes and pour the oil with the diced bacon (fully reheated shortly before) on top, so that the cheese melts. Stir everything carefully and garnish with the chopped chives.
It is arguably not the most favourite dish of frugal disciples of culinary self-chastisement, but it tastes great even if you are not a shepherd coming home after a long day on the Carpathian mountain slopes. Although according to Slovak tradition you are supposed to savour žinčica (a kind of kefir) with the national dish, good (Czech or German) beer will do perfectly as well.
Halušky are also used to make strapačky (basically by replacing bryndza with sauerkraut) – a dish similar to Schupfnudeln in south-western German cuisine.
Enjoy and dobrú chuť!
Bryndzové halušky. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryndzov%C3%A9_halu%C5%A1ky
Bryndza. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryndza
Bryndza. Cheese. https://cheese.com/bryndza/
Brimsen Frischkäse. issgesund. https://www.issgesund.at/gesundessen/lebensmittel/kaeselexikon/brimsen.html
FOTORECEPT: Bryndzové halušky. Dobruchut. https://dobruchut.aktuality.sk/recept/28082/fotorecept-bryndzove-halusky/
Spišské bryndzové halušky. Pečené-varené. http://www.pecene-varene.sk/recipe-items/spisske-bryndzove-halusky/
Bryndzové Halušky: Slovak potato dumplings with sheep cheese. Almost Bananas. http://www.almostbananas.net/bryndzove-halusky-slovak-potato-dumplings-sheep-cheese/
Bryndzové Halušky (Brimsennockerl). Ich koche. https://www.ichkoche.at/bryndzove-halusky-brimsennockerl-rezept-223054
Written by Martin Dlugosch
Currently a Rotating Terminologist at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg. Holds an MA in Translation Studies and in International Marketing from Mainz University and Reutlingen University. Since 2009, translator in European Parliament’s German Translation Unit.