Everyone has heard the phrase, "if walls could talk.." but, what about if food could talk? Would your pizza be telling you the best tourist attractions in Naples, or would it be telling you to lay off the parmesan cheese before your arteries cry out in fear of clogging? Maybe your French fries would grumble about how their name should be changed to Belgium Fries and that the French take credit for everything. Now, if you unfold the thick, plastic, vacuumed-sealed-no-one-is-ever-gonna-get-into-this coating of Oscypek, you'd reveal that it has a lot to say. Starting off, it'd probably complain about the turbulent filled, nine and a half hour long flight. Then it'd go on about how no one appreciates her. In simpler terms, it'll start sounding like every relative from Poland that comes to visit my family in America.
For generations, my family lived off the land in a little village on the outskirts of Poland called Frydman. With a total population of 1,500 and about 10 sheep for every 1 person, it's safe to say that we weren't the wealthiest or most technologically advanced of Poland's towns. This was a common factor in the villages that made up the Podhale region. Though we didn't have wifi, cellphones, or even a main road for the longest time, we're known for being good at one thing: making cheese. More specifically, making a smoked cheese made from salted sheep's milk found only in the Tatra Mountains. Not only is the cheese a traditional staple but, the way it's made is traditional as well. Oscypek is made by 'bacy,' who are usually, but not always, the head, male shepherds and cheese farmers. Although it's the 21st century, they still choose to wear our clothing of the region which consist of authentic wool pants, a white shirt, leather vest, and black felt hat.
Now you may be asking yourself, how much does a football shaped lump of dairy have to say to the world; The answer may surprise you. When it's taken out of a package that has traveled six thousand some odd miles over the Atlantic Ocean, it bellows a hearty, "Welcome to your piece of home, away from home!" When the bride is dressed in white, when the groom fumbles with the final knot in his tie, when the folk band recites the buoyant verses of generations old songs, it cheers a heartfelt, "Congratulations and Good Luck!" When the weather is melancholy and everyone dresses in black, shedding tears over those who have passed on, it offers comfort and a sorrowful, "I'm sorry, I am here if you need me." In simpler terms, oscypek is placed on the table for every and any occasion. It's a comfort food, no doubt, but also a staple in Góralskie tradition. This simple, yet important, work of culinary art offers a way to go back to our roots as Highlanders who worked from dawn to dusk, sang our hymns proudly, and had no relationship more important than family.
It's safe to say that any culture is easily defined by it's food. Coming from a traditional Highlander, or Góralskie, background and holding onto my roots means holding on to the generations of meals that have been made by hand and with love. There weren't always heavy machines and advanced technology to aid people in cooking and the villages that surround the Tatra Mountains, including my family's, hold onto those roots as it is a big part of who we are. My lungs will always be filled with mountain air, my heart with traditional songs, and my stomach with oscypek.