When we ask about the Polish food industry – some will say – “apples”, some – “blueberry”, but when we ask about “cheese”, the answer will be – France, Italy, maybe Switzerland? However, the fact is that Poland has long since joined the ranks of their largest producers.
Poland ranks fourth in Europe, after Germany, France and Italy. In recent years, we have overtaken Switzerland and the Netherlands. The United States is the leader, and our country ranks fifth in global cheese production.
A Brief History of Polish Cheese
It cheese production began in Korycin, on the Kumielka River, in the mid-17th century, where rennet cheese, ripened from cow’s milk, was produced in the same way for hundreds of years.
An equally old recipe, from 1527, can be found for the traditional Polish bryndza, which for hundreds of years has been made from fresh sheep’s milk (hence its distinctly salty taste) coming from sheep grazing on pastures in the period from May to October in the Podhale region of Poland.
The beginnings of industrial production of Polish cheeses date back to the mid-nineteenth century, when the first industrial cheese factory was established in the town of Wieprz near Żywiec. But large-scale production did not begin until the post-war period.
Production volume of Polish cheeses
In the years 2000-2022, it doubled, but the greatest dynamic changes began after Polish’s accession to the EU. The increase in production from 2004 to 2022 amounted to 71% and amounted to 992 thousand tons. (Germany produces 2.3 million tons, France 1.9 million tons, Italy 1.4 million tons).
Currently, the largest number of rennet cheeses produced is ripened cheese, i.e. yellow hard cheeses. The value of their sold production in 2022 amounted to PLN 9.1 billion and accounted for 17.6% of the total production sold by the dairy industry. Since 2000, the production of these cheeses has recorded the highest growth rate from 148 thousand tonnes to 384 thousand tonnes in 2022.
Second place in the production growth dynamics in the same period is occupied by fresh and cottage cheese from the level of 262 thousand tons to 519 thousand tons, which is almost double.
Export of Polish cheeses
The value of exports of Polish cheeses in 2022 amounted to EUR 1.1 million. The vast majority (64%) were ripening rennet cheeses, whose sales outside the country amounted to EUR 735 thousand. In second place were fresh, whey and cottage cheeses (36%), and the value of their sales outside Polish in 2022 was EUR 415 thousand.
However, the highest dynamics of export value growth was recorded in the years 2004-2022 by the latter (8.5 times), whose nutritional and taste values are still finding new admirers, definitely associated with health and nature.
Main export directions of Polish cheeses
Ripened rennet cheeses (so-called yellow hard cheeses) are imported mainly by EU countries, and among them the largest recipients are mainly the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary. The other most common export destinations are the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Panama.
Fresh, whey and cottage cheese can often be found on tables in Germany, Italy, Romania, Spain, Great Britain and Ukraine.
The National Support Centre for Agriculture forecasts that the upward trend in sales of Polish cheeses will continue throughout 2023. In the months of January to August, fresh, whey and cottage cheese were exported 3% more often than in 2022.
Ranking of the best cheeses in the world according to the Taste Atlas
In the ranking of the best cheeses on our planet – on the Taste Atlas website, which publishes recipes and information from around the world, three cheeses from Poland were in the top 50. The ranking is all the more valuable because it is created thanks to the votes of consumers, who say which cheese they like best..
In 11th place, there was our wonderful bryndza, which is a salty sheep’s cheese, which did not have any French cheese ranked higher. The 25th place was taken by gołka ,a cheese reminiscent of the Polish oscypek, a smoked cheese made from cow’s milk. In 48thplace a small redykołka cheese, called the younger sister of oscypek. Polish cheeses beat the competition of such celebrities as Swiss gruyère or Italian mozzarella. (Italian Parmesan cheese won the ranking.)