When I was a child, I never questioned the origins of a strange, non-Slovak sounding name my mum used for the delicious spread she often made for our snacks or evening meals. All I knew about šmirkas at that age was that it was made with bryndza.
We would spread šmirkas on slices of fresh rye bread, crowned it with radishes, and there you had a nice, satisfying meal that would feed all the family. Yes, even our Dad – a diehard carnivore – was happy to change his daily routine once in a while.
It’s no wonder I chose to include šmirkas in A Taste of Slovakia book. Bryndza is a sheep’s milk cheese closely associated with Slovakia because of the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) label it received from the EU in 2008.
Šmirkas (pronounced as shmirkas) is an old name for bryndzová nátierka, a piquant bryndza cheese spread that has been part of the Slovak diet for centuries. However, few Slovaks know that the old name comes from the German Schmierkäse (meaning cream cheese). This is not surprising, as Slovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1867 – 1918. Šmirkas is just one of the German-sounding names that have survived in our language until today.
There are quite a few recipes for Bryndza Cheese Spread circulating around Slovakia. The one below is from a tiny recipe book I got from shepherds in Liptov.
Piquant Bryndza Cheese Spread
Serves 6 – 8
- 150 g bryndza cheese (or other quality soft cheese)
- 60 g butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- chives to garnish, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- radishes to top
- salt to taste*
* there’s no need to add more salt if you are using bryndza, as the cheese itself is salty enough
- Put the bryndza cheese and the butter in a mixing bowl and let soften at room temperature. Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Wash and chop the chives.
- Cream the bryndza cheese with the butter, add the onion, the paprika and the mustard. Work all the ingredients into a smooth paste.
- Wash the radishes and slice them. Spoon dollops of the bryndza paste onto slices of fresh bread and spread around. Top with the radishes and sprinkle with the chives.I understand bryndza cheese is difficult to buy outside Slovakia, but it can sometimes be replaced by cheeses like Greek Feta, French Roquefort, Italian Ricotta or a soft variety of Pecorino.