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The Good Life in Aggtelek National Park Part 102: Hortobágy National Park Certified Products

narcisz sajtLast week the project coordinators for the Hungarian National Park Certified Products met at Hortobágy National Park. Our first stop was the Nárcisz Farm  in Debrecen. We got lost and only arrived near the end of the owner's informed introduction to cheese making and his business. I had already come into contact with this gifted cheese maker at the regular Sunday Szimpla Kért Market in Budapest, and at the Jászapáti Bread Festival a couple years ago. He is one of the very few Hungarian cheese makers to produce the tangy, hard aged goat and cow cheeses I love so much. That said, he also makes a variety of soft cheeses and camembert. Nárcisz explained that his camembert is different from the traditional French camembert because he starts with a Brevibacterium linens cheese culture used in making the stinky Palpuszta cheese (equivalent to what Americans know as Limburger, and strangely the same one found on human skin that is partially responsible for body odour), but stops the process at a certain point and continues with a camembert culture. This gives the cheese a little pungent kick missing in the French variety. Before going in for lunch we went outside to look at 2 cold smokers filled with croissant-shaped cheeses. Cold smoking removes the toxic tar from the process. In addition to the cheeses, the farm also supplies fresh iced coffee and kefir 3 times a week to about 250 shops around the country, including the Lipóti Bakery chain. The 4-person enterprise is now branching out into organic beers under the Bocskai brand. Flavours include Irish red, bourbon vanilla and wheat among others; all are strong with over 5.5% alcohol content (250-350 HUF/500ml bottle).

Lunch consisted of a cheese tasting, which really would have been plenty for me, as well as huge kenyér lángos (like a pizza). All the cheeses were excellent, but I settled on buying some of the extra hard chanterelle mushroom cheese (5900 HUF/kg) and a round of camembert.guba

The next stop on the tour was the Wool House in Hajdúszoboszló (Korpos u. 6, tel: 06-20-318-6327, Emma Borbély Dezsőné greeted us in her lovely garden. Emma has been weaving for 40 years, but was only able to follow her passion after retirement in 2009. She uses wool from rakaca sheep (an ancient Hungarian animal breed like the grey cattle and mangalica pigs) from "happy" 1-year old lambs. She and 4 others (there used to be 300 a century ago) have revived the art of making the traditional Debrecen guba wool coat. These coats were cheaper and more accessible than the better known suba. Whereas the suba is made from full wool layers from several animals, the guba consists of a woven jacket base with individual twists of wool stitched into it. These coats were slept on in the summer and worn in the winter. Her favourite loom of the three we saw in the house is the 1896 "Zsuzsi," which she says has everything in its proper place and in proportion. Dyes are made from local plants. A guba now costs anywhere from 200,000 HUF on up.

Accommodation was at the national park's Erdei Iskola not far from the famous 9-arch bridge built in 1833 and depicted in Tivadar Csontváry's paintings.

toltott kaposztaThe next morning we visited potter Zsolt Nagy and his wife Eszter in k. nagy zsoltNádudvar. I was still full from the kenyér lángos and egg stew from the day before, but we immediately dug into the hot pigs knuckles and stuffed cabbage (mushroom stew for me) baked in the couple's ceramic pots in the outside oven. The pots are suitable for ovens and grills but not direct flame. The two basic colours seem to be a reddish orange and dark green. There are also larger pots criss-crossed with a wire net. Lunch was followed by a tour of the workshop and an opportunity to try our hands at throwing a pot on the wheel. I was happy to see water saving devices installed in the bathroom, an environmental consistency that is often sadly lacking at certified producers.

Thank you to Edina and Hortobágy National Park for organising such a pleasant 2 days. We will try and visit for the Crane Festival October 20-22.