In pantries across Central and Eastern Europe, you’ll find vinegar- or brine-filled mason jars stuffed with onions, beets, cucumbers, and even baby melons. But in Czechia, cheese also gets the pickling treatment. The next time you’re traveling through the country, keep an eye out for nakládaný hermelín on the bar menu and try some with your beer.
The main ingredient is a cheese called hermelín, a Czech imitation of the Norman Camembert. Like its French counterpart, it’s a round cheese with a white rind and a creamy core that carries a slight waft of fresh woodland mushrooms. You can eat hermelín raw, but it’s more popular pickled. Nakládaný hermelín is often prepared by slicing the cheese in half and by marinating it in oil with herbs and spices, most often onion, garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorn, and sometimes with spicy peppers, for around 10 days.
If you’re a pickle aficionado, you may be wondering, “Where is the vinegar?” But the truth is that nakládaný hermelín is actually more of a marinated product than a pickled one. False advertising? Not if you speak Czech. “To marinate” and “to pickle” translate as the same Czech word, which basically means storing something in some kind of liquid, whether it’s vinegar, brine, or oil.
So what does “pickled cheese” taste like? The longer it marinates, the more flavors it picks up. After mingling with garlic, onion, and pepper, nakládaný hermelín packs a pungent but tasty punch. As for its texture, the cheese is so soft that it flows like a surrealist clock when you cut into it.
Need to Know
Nakládaný hermelín is the ultimate bar food in Czechia and best enjoyed with a slice of dark bread or topinky (deep-fried, dense brown bread that's served with garlic), and washed down with a cold Czech beer.