Dairy products are important in the diet of all age-groups because they provide a number of important nutrients that are essential for our well-being. Cheese is a concentrated dairy product made from milk curds and has been consumed as part of the human diet for thousands of years. As with milk, yoghurt and all other dairy products, cheese naturally contains many nutrients including calcium, phosphorous, protein, fat soluble vitamins and B vitamins (The United Kingdom Dairy Council 2015).
Bulgarian cheeses enjoy particular characteristics due to the mountainous pastures and the natural climatic favourable conditions. The cheese making tradition of White Brine Cheese (Sirene) and Kashkaval, as well as yoghurt is as old as the country itself.
Cheese is not only a traditional dairy product but it is essential for many Bulgarian recipes. It is eaten on a daily basis and its consumption is deemed as both healthy and for its flavour. The quality and the unique taste of the White Brine Cheese are mostly due to the specifically bacteria, the Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, which makes it at the same time more easy to digest. Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies Bulgaricus (until 1984 known as Lactobacillus Bulgaricus) is one of the several bacteria used for the production of yoghurt and other naturally fermented products. The name Lactobacillus Bulgaricus is derived from the country Bulgaria where it was first used to preserve milk. By manufacturing lactic acid (from lactose), Bulgaricus provides a good environment for the resident bacteria such as acidophilus and the Lactobacillus Bulgaricus bacteria.
Cheese is consumed everywhere in the world, over 500 hundred cheeses have been recognized by the International Dairy Federation. Europe is the biggest cheese producer worldwide. With several hundreds of varieties produced in different regions, influenced by different cultural backgrounds and environments, it is also the place with the biggest variety of cheeses worldwide. Cheese is one of the most versatile, rich in taste and varieties and nutritious food.
Cheeses characteristics including colour, aroma, texture, flavour, firmness, presence of mould, gas holes or “eyes”, are the results of cheese making techniques which have developed over time in response to new technologies, amelioration in product quality and changing in consumer demand. There’s no single method of classifying cheeses and a number of criteria can be used such as length of ageing, texture and region of origin. However, key differences in cheese characteristics can generally be attributed to:
Sirene, which means White Brine Cheese in Bulgarian, sometimes referred to as pickled cheese for some varieties, it is cheese that is matured in a solution of brine in an airtight or semi-permeable container. This process gives the cheese good stability, inhibiting bacterial growth even in hot countries.
White Brine Cheese is a traditional product that treasures the fragrance of herbs, purity of mountain air and traditions of the Bulgarian culture. It was originally made with goat’s or sheep’s milk, but today it is often made by pasteurised cow’s milk or a mixture of cow, sheep, goat and buffalo milk. Its fat content can range from 30 to 60%; however most production today is around 45% of milk fat. The qualities of the Sirene cheese are due mostly to the specific lactose tolerant bacteria which converts the milk into yoghurt and then to cheese, the Lactobacillus Bulgaricus starter culture, which gives this delicious high quality product its specific taste.
The production of coagulation occurs within 48 hours from milk collection. When coagulation is complete, the White Brine Cheese is cut in cubes and then transported progressively and carefully into molds, which favours draining and shaping after which it is placed into barrels or other containers with brine, it is then transported into maturing chambers until maturing is complete. It is stored in refrigerators with a temperature of 2-4 degrees Celsius submerged in its own brine. The total maturing time of White Brine Cheese can last up to 2 months. As this cheese is rich in calcium, salts and amino acids accumulated during the process of maturing, it has a high nourishing quality.
White Brine Cheese is most suitable for direct consumption, for use as a garnish on salads or high temperature cooking for other delicious dishes.
This cheese typology is common in South-East Europe, Central Asia, Gulf Region and South Mediterranean Countries.
Kashkaval is a type of yellow cheese that is made of cow milk (Kashkaval vitosha), sheep milk (Kashkaval balkan) or a mixture of both milks (Kashkaval preslav), the most popular is the cow milk Kashkaval.
Kashkaval is characterized by typical creamy yellow colour, a spotless and smooth surface, a semi-firm and waxy texture.
Known also as the “Cheddar Cheese of the Balkans” because of its similarity in taste, it is a typically dark yellow cheese. The most obvious difference between the Kashkaval and the other popular European yellow cheeses is the lack of eyeholes in Kashkaval.
This semi-hard cheese is common in all the Balkan countries and it is very appreciated for its taste.
Kashkaval traditions come from the roman period, the name being used to design a particular variety of cheese (yellow cheese). That shows the long tradition of this dairy product.
Kashkaval is one of the most valuable and nutritious dairy products with extremely high quality taste. It contains 23-27% quality proteins, 25-32% milk fats and about 3% mineral salts.
Bulgarian Kashkaval is made from fresh cow milk without any additives with a specially selected bacterial strain in specially defined ratio of the microorganisms. Very important technological process is the curdling of the milk and for this purpose a special milk coagulation enzyme is used. During production, it is poured into cylindrical molds and allowed to age for around six months - it becomes firmer as it ages, turning into a great grating cheese. Around 10 kilograms of milk are needed to make around one kilogram of Kashkaval.
The modern technology used in its production, the long shelf life (10-12 months) and the high quality of Kashkaval makes this an excellent and versatile product.
Considered to be a staple in the Balkan diet, Kashkaval has a very pleasant flavour with hints of olive oil and lemon and it is usually served with olives or used shredded on top of pasta. Also used in salads, appetizers, pizzas and lasagna, it makes a great addition to any cheese platter. Moreover its semi-firm, slightly hard texture makes it an excellent cheese for grilling or for frying.