It is the country’s most smelly specialty – Olomoucké tvarůžky – dubbed by foreign visitors as “the stinky cheese of Olomouc” is not something you can easily overlook. Its pungent odor hits you the minute you open the fridge and will render you a social outcast several hours after consuming it. However many consider it to be one of the country’s biggest delicacies and the Czech Republic fought and won a six-year war with Germany and Austria over a protected geographical status trademark.
The soft, gummy yellow cheeses which are sold in packs of five –to be consumed with beer or wine – date back to the 15th century when they were produced by hand from sour cottage cheese and salt. By the second half of the 18th century they were so popular that Emperor Leopold II insisted they be served at his wedding feast and in 1872 they are reported to have won second and third prize at the very first fair of dairy products in Vienna. Marie Pekařová who is a guide at the Olomoucké Tvarůžky Museum explains that the name is somewhat misleading – the pungent cheese is actually made in the small town of Loštice, which is a stone’s throw from Olomouc.
“That’s because the cheese was always taken to Olomouc to be sold at open air markets and later in stone shops. Olomouc was a bigger town, better known and since it was sold there it became known as Olomouc cheese. Today its fame has travelled far. Our cheese museum has around 4,000 visitors annually, including foreign visitors. We have had visitors from all around Europe but also Japan, China, Chile and Australia and more recently we have had groups of students from the United States.”
The AW Loštice company which makes the delicacy to this day is still based in the small town of Loštice from where vans set out daily to deliver the unique product to outlets around the country. Marie Pekařová again:
“According to the first written records, large scale production of this delicacy started back in 1876 when Josef Wessels opened the first “Olomouc cheese” company in Loštice. The company stayed in family hands and was later run by his son Alois Wessels. By the way, the company name is still Alois Wessels though now it uses the abbreviation A.W. After the fall of communism descendants of the former owners got the company back in the restitution process and now produce 2,000 tons of Olomouc cheeses annually.”
In July of 2010 the EU granted Olomoucké tvarůžky Protected Geographical Indication status –meaning that the only cheese that can be sold under that name is that made in the little town of Loštice according to the original recipe. Loštice and Olomouc toasted the victory together – the famous smelly cheese helped put both towns on the map and for visitors who come after closing time there are even vending machines offering the local specialty.
The usual way to eat tvarůžky is with bread and butter and onions – and wash them down with a pint of good beer or a glass of wine. Many people like to fry them (fried cheese being a popular Czech dish) – and claim that the procedure significantly reduces the smell though I would still not recommend them to the faint-hearted. They are also sold melted in a potato pancake but the real fajnšmekr –the borrowed Czech expression for gourmet –eats them just as they are in order to fully savour the taste and inimitable pungent smell.
Still it was only a matter of time for some entrepreneur to present them in a different “coating” and the first to latch onto the opportunity was a family sweetshop looking for ways to attract new customers at a time of economic downturn.
Now, sweet-shops is something that Czechs and Austrians have in common. The tradition of going to the sweetshop for a mouth-watering piece of cake, freshly made éclairs or cream-covered rakvičky ( bearing the morbid name of coffins) with a cup of tea or coffee is something dating back to the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. To this day Czech sweet-shops have wonderful pastries but the competition is strong and owners need to offer something extra –especially when many Czechs are now looking to save money. The Poštulkovy family runs a sweet shop in Loštice – located just a few houses away from the company that makes the famous Olomoucké tvarůžky – so it didn’t take them long to hit on the idea of giving the local specialty pride-of-place on their menu.
Zdenka Poštulková who opened the sweetshop with her husband and two daughters says the smelly cheese has always been a staple in their household and the whole family helped to create the new recipes.
“In order to bring in tourists we had to offer something original –so we came up with this somewhat unusual combination – something that resembles sweet pastries, but tastes refreshingly different and can be consumed with a glass of wine. People meet here to chat and some of them may not be in the mood for something sweet. Also the recopies that we have put together are an acceptable way of tasting tvarůžky without being bowled over. They just smack of the typical taste because we put a bit of the cheese into a sour cream whip or blend it with ham, nuts, gingerbread or plum marmalade. We have ten different kinds of pastries and we try to keep the taste clean and simple.”
The different recipes are something that emerged over time. When Zdenka Poštulková would need to whip up a quick meal for the family she often combined left-overs and whatever the family greeted with enthusiasm stayed on the menu. She says that over the years she tried a wide variety of combinations with the popular tvarůžky. Three years ago she first went public with them and has since won half a dozen competitions.
So how well are the tvarůžky pastries –reminiscent of quiches – selling? Zdenka Poštulkova says they are a hit with the locals, but that like so many unusual specialties they are an acquired taste.
“I would say that 99 percent of Czechs who try them approve. Even people who do not like tvarůžky because of their pungent smell say that in our whipped cream they taste very good. Of course with foreigners its different. They are more wary and more reserved when it comes to trying tvarůžky because the smell puts them off. But we intend to stick with this specialty which has become something of a flagship now. We believe that tvarůžky have a future and we sell our products at farmers markets as well. One of our daughters now lives in Brussels and so she’s taken the PR beyond Czech borders –but it’s a long road and not an easy one.“
The episode featured today was first broadcast on January 19, 2012.
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