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Polish Regional and Traditional Products
May 7, 2015   
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Food producers in Poland are increasingly interested in producing food as part of various quality systems. Such systems are developing and the main aim is to deliver products of consistently high and confirmed quality.

Food quality policy has played an increasingly important role in Poland since the country joined the European Union in 2004. The country is an active participant in the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), and Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) systems. So far, 37 Polish products have been subject to protection in the EU.

Poland’s regions are a treasure-trove of products whose history is intertwined with the tradition and special features of the sites where they are made. Such products stand out on account of their unique quality that they owe to their place of origin, non-industrial cultivation and breeding methods, traditional production methods, and compliance with top quality standards.

Poland abounds in fresh fruit and vegetables that, thanks to the low use of pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture and special conditions of cultivation, are unique in flavor and aroma. Apples are the country’s pride, including two varieties registered as protected geographical indications: jabłka grójeckie (apples from Grójec) and jabłka łąckie (apples from Łącko). The annual celebration of the Blossoming Apple Tree Festival shows how important fruit farming is for the Grójec region. In 1918 this was where Poland’s first fruit storehouse was set up. The region is called Europe’s biggest orchard. Also in the villages of the Łącko Valley in southern Poland, fruit growing is the second most important sector of the economy after agriculture and a source of the region’s prosperity. The microclimate there, based on temperature fluctuations during the day and at night, lends apples from Łącko (PGI) their distinctive tart flavor and an aroma that is described as “a green mountain overtone.” These apples also have very crunchy flesh, are juicy, aromatic and have a rosy skin.

The Kashubia region in the north is home to truskawka kaszubska (Kashubian strawberry; PGI; kaszëbskô malëna in Kashubian) whose high quality and exceptional flavor are due to the region’s special soil and climate conditions. The unique flavor of the Kashubian strawberry and its popularity has resulted in a rapidly growing number of strawberry plantations. Another exceptional type of fruit is the aromatic, flavorsome and slightly tart wiśnia nadwiślanka (Vistula cherry; PDO).

Methods of preserving fruit that are popular in Poland include smoking and drying. Producers in different regions developed different methods of smoking and drying plums in special drying sheds, so two types are protected in the PGI system: śliwka szydłowska (Szydłowiec plums) in Świętokrzyskie province and suska sechlońska from the Małopolska region. Poland’s southern regions have been famous for their top-quality bean plantations from time immemorial. Fasola korczyńska (Korczyn beans; PGI), Piękny Jaś beans from the Dunajec River Valley (PDO), and fasola wrzawska (Wrzawy beans; PDO) prepared in different ways are an important element of the regional cuisines.

Poland boasts a long tradition of making all kinds of meat dishes and cold cuts and sausages. The meadows of the Tatra Mountains are associated with small herds of mountain sheep grazing on natural feed; this is the region that produces jagnięcina podhalańska (lamb from Podhale; PGI). The meat comes from lambs of sheep breeds that are excellently adapted to rough mountain conditions. The only food the lambs get is the milk of their mothers—sheep that graze in pastures covered with vegetation that does not grow outside the Podhale region. Thanks to this the meat is lean, juicy and has a flavor and aroma similar to those of venison.

Cold cuts and sausages made from pork are the most popular in Poland. Over the years producers have perfected their recipes and used mixtures of herbs, spices and other ingredients to satisfy even the most demanding palate. One product whose recipe has been kept secret and passed from generation to generation is kiełbasa lisiecka (sausage from Liszki)—a specialty made by butchers from Liszki and Czernichów in the Małopolska region. Roughly chopped pork is seasoned with pepper, garlic and a little salt. The delicious flavor is developed by smoking the sausages in traditional smoking chambers in which the smoke comes from the burning wood of deciduous trees like alder and beech or fruit trees. The three most famous Polish processed meat products have been registered as traditional specialties guaranteed. They are kabanos (TSG)—very popular long and thin dried sausages; dried and smoked kiełbasa myśliwska (hunter’s sausage; TSG), and kiełbasa jałowcowa (juniper sausage; TSG), to which freshly crushed juniper berries are added just before production begins.

Podhale is one of Poland’s cleanest regions and one where the tradition of grazing sheep and making cheese goes back several centuries. Vegetation not found anywhere else, the special skills of local residents, and recipes that remain unchanged and have been passed from generation to generation—all this has resulted in three exceptional mountain cheeses. Unquestionably, the most famous and distinctive of these is oscypek (PDO). Its spindle-like shape with special embossed patterns and a slightly salty flavor and smoky aroma make this a favorite not just among chefs, restaurant owners and traditional cuisine enthusiasts but above all tourists, for whom it has become a trademark of the Polish Tatra Mountains. The same region also makes small cheese called redykołki (PDO) that can come in the shape of an animal, a heart or a spindle, and an unusual cheese that was once used instead of money: bryndza podhalańska (PDO). It is a soft rennet cheese with a salty, spicy or acidic flavor. All these cheeses are made in the mountain meadows, in wooden shepherd’s huts called bacówki, and taste best during a mountain hike.

Of the many food preservation methods used in Poland, the Wielkopolska region’s residents have perfected the cheese frying technique. Local know-how and a tradition that developed in the region over many years led to the emergence of wielkopolski ser smażony (Wielkopolska fried cheese; PGI). Production is preceded by the natural process of ripening that gives the cheese its one-of-a-kind flavor and aroma. Its culinary uses are also unusual, starting from simple dishes like soup or vegetables all the way to sophisticated meat dishes and even desserts.

One of the country’s coldest regions is home to a cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk: ser koryciński swojski (rustic cheese from Korycin; PGI). Its flattened spherical shape and corrugated texture on the surface, achieved by using special strainers, is recognizable to practically anyone living in the Podlasie region. The flavor and aroma may be enhanced by the addition of spices and herbs gathered in the region, which has been dubbed the Green Lungs of Poland.

Beekeeping has a long and rich tradition in Poland that was started by Slavic tribes over a thousand years ago. In those days Central and Eastern Europe was covered with forests that constituted bee habitats, and people learned quickly how to take advantage of this natural resource. The earliest written mentions of beekeeping in what is now Poland come from Arab merchants who visited the area when Poland’s statehood was beginning to emerge in the 10th century. Such a long beekeeping tradition combined with the biological diversity found in Poland has enabled beekeepers to obtain various kinds of top-quality honey.

The expert skills of local beekeepers and the traditional way of running apiaries in southeastern Poland’s fir forests are reflected in the extraordinary flavor of podkarpacki miód spadziowy (Podkarpacie honeydew honey; PDO). In the north, close to the Polish-Lithuanian border, uniquely flavored multi-flower honey is gathered thanks to an abundance of rare pollen-rich postglacial plants. Made in Poland and Lithuania on the basis of several dozen species of honey-yielding plants, miód z Sejneńszczyzny (honey from the Sejny region; PDO) cannot be compared with any other multi-flower honey. Based on completely different vegetation, the Lower Silesian heaths yield the unique miód wrzosowy z Borów Dolnośląskich (heather honey from Lower Silesia Forests; PGI). The combination of nectar-rich, dense heaths and lush vegetation in the region means that it is probably the only place where honey with such a high content of heather pollen can be obtained. Further to the northwest, miód drahimski (Drahimski honey, from the old name of today’s Stare Drawsko; PGI) is the name of five honey varieties based on plants typical of the Drawsko Lake District: buckwheat honey, rapeseed honey, heather honey, linden honey and multi-flower honey.

Central Poland, specifically the Kurpie region, also has a long beekeeping tradition. The local honey was famous all over the country and was served at royal banquets. A special technological process in which the temperature never exceeds 30 degrees Celsius enables miód kurpiowski (honey from Kurpie; PGI) to retain all the natural enzymes and volatile compounds that give it its wonderful aroma and flavor.

Poland’s beekeeping traditions also include the production of meads described as “liquid gold.” This kind of production has a tradition spanning over a thousand years in Poland. Beginning in the 15th century, Polish meads started to attract buyers throughout Europe. Today półtorak, dwójniak, trójniak and czwórniak meads (TSG) are among Poland’s national alcoholic beverages and a part of the country’s cultural heritage.

Poland is also renowned for its baked goods. The tradition of making bread and sweet baked goods is based on recipes listing only natural ingredients. Examples include andruty kaliskie (Kalisz wafers; PGI), thin round sweet wafers made from the finest wheat flour, and the popular rogal świętomarciński (St. Martin’s roll; PGI). The latter, with its special white poppy seed filling with almond flavoring, is inextricably linked to the celebration—begun in the 16th century—of the end of the agrarian year, falling on St. Martin’s Day.

The symbol of Cracow, one of Poland’s most beautiful cities, is obwarzanek krakowski (bagel-like bread from Cracow; PGI). It can be bought at practically every street corner from distinctive carts. Today some 150,000 obwarzaneks are made daily for sale on the Cracow market. The Cracow region also bakes chleb prądnicki (Prądnik bread; PGI) whose loaves can weigh up to 4.5 kg.

The Silesian tradition of putting special decorations—a heart (symbol of love), a garland, a ring (marriage), and a stone (the marriage’s durability)—on wedding cakes that the newlyweds could exchange dates back to the 10th century. Being an expensive wedding cake, kołocz śląski (Silesian wedding cake/pie, PGI) was meant to guarantee prosperity for the new family. The cake is so famous in Silesia that no one can imagine regional cuisine without it. Made plain or with cottage cheese, poppy seed or apple filling, the pies are available at stores and as a Silesian specialty during festivals and local fairs.

Another product worth recommending is pierekaczewnik (TSG), a Tatar specialty. The tradition of making it—from an extraordinarily labor-intensive recipe—originated from Poland’s former eastern borderlands inhabited by Tatars, among other peoples, for whom this particular baked product has for centuries been an element of the celebration of Muslim festivals.

Promotion of traditional and regional products

The product protection system offers enormous opportunities for Polish producers and their products. The diversity of Polish cuisine and unique foods is reflected in the steadily growing number of products protected in the European Union and the increasing popularity of the domestic List of Traditional Products. One of the main purposes for which this list was established was to promote regional delicacies across Poland so that they could subsequently be effectively promoted internationally.

A product is eligible to be entered on the List of Traditional Products if it has a documented production tradition of at least 25 years. Products applying for entry should also be an element of a local community’s identity and belong to the cultural heritage of the region they are from. The list indirectly helps producers prepare for registering the names of the listed products at the EU level. About 1,400 products have been entered on the List of Traditional Products so far, and the Polish Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is receiving new applications all the time. The List of Traditional Products is a treasure-trove of information not only on the products themselves but above all on foods typical of different regions of Poland and their traditional flavors.

Photos courtesy of Agricultural Market Agency (ARR)
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