Taga Cheese, matured in the cave
Brânza de Țaga (also known as Năsal) is a soft cheese from fermented cow’s milk. It matures in unique microbiological conditions in a natural cave in the Țaga village (which gives it its Romanian name).
At the beginning, Țaga cheese was produced solely from sheep’s milk. Now, however, it is made from cow’s milk pasteurized by the Someș Arieș Agricultural Cooperative (Someș Arieș Cooperativa Agricolă), and has certification as a traditional Romanian product.
The cave is now 125 metres long and five metres wide. It has a constant temperature of 14ºC, humidity of 93%, and most importantly, the bacteria Brevibacterium Linens, which gives the product its specific texture, aroma and color.
We must go back in history to find the origins of this cheese. Hundreds of years ago, shepherds working for the nobleman Schilling stole a part of a sheep's hide and stashed it in a cave close by. Several weeks later Schilling discovered the cheese in the cave and tested a little, to check if it was still safe to eat. Covered with mold, the cheese was soft in the centre, with a pungent aroma and a distinct taste. The nobleman was surprised to find that it tasted much better than the previous version. Production was therefore shifted to the cave, and thus began the manufacture of Țaga cheese.
The cave is unique in the world thanks to the presence of Brevibacterium Linens, which lives in its walls and transforms an ordinary cheese into a delicacy. Researchers have attempted to reproduce the bacteria that ferment the cheese in a laboratory, but to no avail – proving that the cheese can only be produced naturally. Over the years, the cave has undergone major changes, including expansion to increase its storage capacity.
In 1945, Filipan priest took over the production of sheep's milk cheese, which was kept in the cave in Țaga for fermentation and maturation for about two weeks. Owing to the success of this cheese, the milk collection and processing company in Cluj built a special space in the village for cheese production.
In 1970, industrial production began when a cheese factory was built with the most modern equipment of the time. The cave, which had been very narrow and difficult for staff to access, was duly enlarged, which also increased storage capacity. Thanks to the investment and high quality of the cheese, production had increased to 14 types of cheese by 1989. After the revolution, many factories in Romania went bankrupt amid the political turmoil, but the cheese factory in Taga continued to flourish owing to the high demand for its products. Both the factory and the cave were upgraded in the following years to meet European standards. Today, the cave is the property of FrieslandCampina Romania, known for its Napolact products.
The Someș Arieș Agricultural Cooperative oversees the entire production process. As well as Țaga, it produces fresh cheeses, and matures three more varieties in the cave:
• Bobâlna – a creamy cheese fermented with soft cow's milk paste, aged for 20 days, with a creamy structure and strong taste that suggests wormwood
• Moeciu – a fermented cheese with a semi-hard paste made from cow's milk, aged for 30 days
• Montana – a fermented cheese with a semi-hard paste made from cow's milk, aged for 35 days.
More details are available here.
Did you know that Năsal is a village in the commune of Țaga in the Cluj County.