One of the great difficulties in learning any foreign language is when there are two words in the new language for something, but you only have one word in your own.
Nearly 20 years ago now (my goodness, how the time has flown!), I remember asking the woman who taught me so much about Romanian cooking what the difference was between brânză (bruhnzuh) and cașcaval (cosh-kavalle) since they both mean “cheese” in English. Her reply was, “One is fermented, and the other is not.”
Unfortunately, that didn’t help me much, as the only thing I knew about cheese in those days was that it was made from milk, and that you buy it in the store.
I had no idea, of course, that one day I’d actually make some cheese on television in a tiny village way up in the Carpathian Mountains. The difference between the two kinds of cheese isn’t exactly about fermentation, but it’s close enough for our purposes today.
Probably the easiest way to understand the difference is that brânză is generally soft cheese while cașcaval is “hard” or “regular” cheese. In other words, cottage cheese would be brânză while Cheddar cheese would be cașcaval.
Cheese is a really important part of the Romanian diet, so it’s no surprise that there are about 100 different idioms and sayings that use one of these two words. Probably my favorite is one they use here in Moldova – brînză de iepure – literally “rabbit cheese”, but it means something that’s impossible to do.
Over the years, one interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that native English speakers almost invariably dislike brânzeturi (soft cheeses) but do usually like the taste of cașcavaluri or “hard” cheeses. I’m not quite sure why, but it does seem rather universal.
So, if you’re coming to Romania and your native language is English, you might want to pass if someone offers you some brânză to eat.
AND NOW YOU KNOW!