Brânza de Năsal
The Năsal Branza is a traditional Romanian cheese that takes its name from a village in Cluj County, Transylvania, where the cave used for centuries for its ripening is located.
The special feature of this washed rind cow’s milk cheese is precisely the fact that it is ripened in a natural cave, used since the Middle Ages. Indeed, the stone in such caves features the Brevibacterium linens bacteria that, along with a constant temperature of 14° and the proper humidity, confers the brânza its special features.
Legend has it that a farmer in the village of Năsal, disobeying the count who owned the village, stole some cheese from the latter to give to his children and hid it in a cave. Only after a few weeks, he came back to get his loot, and was pleasantly surprised to find that not only had the cheese not gone bad, it tasted great, in spite of the strong smell and the reddish yellow colour of the rind. The count came to learn about the theft and punished the farmer, but kept the cheese that had been seasoned in this way, and served it to his noble guests; proud of such a delicacy, he began storing his cheese in the caves as well.
The cheese gained popularity around the mid-19th century, when János Schilling, an architect who had purchased a farm in Năsal, began making the cheese with his son Ottó, and seasoning it in a cave. The cheese also won a gold medal at the Paris Expo. In 1948, Schilling’s farm was nationalised, and in 1954 a smaller cheese factory was built in the village. A few years go, in the nearby town of Țaga, a cheese factory reopened that gets its milk from the local farmers and is again making the Năsal branza.
The Năsal Brânza is excellent as a starter or as a dessert, served with fruit or meat and a dry red wine, possibly Romanian, such as a good Feteasca Neagra.