Thursday, September 2, 2010

Food Festival in Gruczno

Forgive me for taking a long break in posting. The weekend before last, my husband and I went to the most renowned Food Festival in Poland, in the north of the country. And last weekend, we visited in Kraków the final session of the Małopolski Food Festival (“Festiwal Smaku”) – a food event for producers from the south of Poland. In the meantime, I have been bothered by an invalidating back pain and I had to reduce the sitting position to a minimum.

The Food Festival in Gruczno takes place every August.  This little town is located 500 km from Kraków, and about 100 km from the seaside. It probably is the largest and the most renowned festival of producers of artisanal and organic food products.

Food festivals have developed in Poland a few years ago only, thanks mostly to our membership to the European Union, which financially supports the development of regions. While the Małopolski Food Festival in Kraków is reserved for producers from the Małopolska region, the festival in Gruczno also welcomes producers from other regions, and for that reason it is more interesting. If you ever travel to northern Poland in August, try to visit this place. The best is to get there by car although driving in Poland is definitely not a pleasure (roads are rutted, people drive fast and aggressively). And while in Gruczno, you might as well visit the beautiful old town of Chełmno. Why not extend your visit to some of the biggest touristy attractions in the region: the city of Gdańsk, the Castle Museum in Malbork – one of the largest Middle Ages castles of the Teutonic Knights - around one hour of driving. Or Toruń – which is around 45 minutes of driving.

I had been hesitating to visit the festival for quite a while and we kind of decided to go there at the last minute. As we did not plan in advance where we could sleep, it was no surprise that the only “Chambre d’Hôtes” we found ad hoc was a stinky rat hole. I usually am not such a maniac as regards to sanitary conditions. But in this place, I was disgusted by the fact that sheets and pillow cases were not fresh. However, we arrived at 1 a.m. after 500 km of driving including 300 km in a huge traffic jam (it took us a total of 10 hours to get there). At that point, the physiological need to sleep was stronger than our will to find a more civilized and cleaner place. All in all, one can put a clean towel on a dirty pillow case and sleep well. The following morning, we got up very early and we arrived at the Festival as one of the first guests, a few hours before its official opening. Thanks to that I could have a few nice chats with several producers.

Around one hundred producers of organic or regional products from the whole country come to Gruczno. Some regions, like the North are better represented than the South or the East (they have their own food festivals). The producers encourage visitors to taste all their products – some of them quite famous, some of them forgotten or not so well known:

Hams (“szynki”), Sausages (“kiełbasy”), Kabanos (“kabanosy” – a thin and long sausage commonly made from pork, sometimes from other types of meat, including horse meat) and other charcuterie products made from pork (the most popular meat used for Polish charcuterie items). Besides pork, I tasted lamb and goat sausages - both interesting in taste (I have never seen them in any shops); Polish traditional charcuterie is cooked and smoked (not all foreigners like that particular smoked taste);

Półgęsek (“goose breast”) – an old dish made from boneless goose breast with the skin on, cured and slowly smoked in cold smoke. In some regions of Poland “półgęsek” was prepared from the whole goose carcass (without legs and wings). The dish was a luxury one, but in the 19th century became especially popular in the Northern region of Pomorze, where breeding of geese was popular. The texture is similar to raw ham; the characteristic taste of smoked, raw meat (similar duck breasts may be found in France). You will not find it in shops in Southern Poland. There is one place serving this Polish specialty abroad: the Polish restaurant in London, recently opened by the renowned Polish restaurateur, Adam Gessler. In Warsaw, you will find it in the restaurant “U Kucharzy.

Cheeses (“sery”) ; except for oscypek, bryndza and bundz (local and genuine cheeses from the south of Poland, which I already wrote about in my previous posts and fresh goat cheeses, one could find “korycińskie cheeses” (“sery korycińskie”). This cheese is a regional and traditional product from the east of Poland. Its name derives from a town called Korycin, located not far away from the famous Biebrza National Park. It is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk, with the addition of rennet. The cheese is harder than bundz, but its jangling texture is somehow similar. It is sold in large, round “loaves” of about 3 kg.  With maturity, it changes in taste, color and smell – for example, its texture, which initially is soft, becomes hard over time and its mild cream taste acquires a hint of salt over time.
Unlike bundz, koryciński cheeses are flavored with various herbs and spices. According to a local legend, the method of the cheese production was brought to the region by Swiss soldiers, engaged in the Polish Army during the Polish – Swedish War (“potop szwedzki”) in the 17th century. I further tasted cheeses from a few other producers who make hard cured cheeses of Italian or French styles. Amongst them, I met Rusłan Kozynko who produces cheeses that are close enough to a Parmiggiano, a Pecorino or a French Blue cheese (something between Roquefort and Bleu d”Auvergne).  All of them are worth mentioning and worth tasting as well, although I had a slight feeling that the blue cheese was overdone a bit. Their products, manufactured in Mazury (Northeast Poland) are available on the company’s website (vacuum packaging of the products allows for safe shipping).
I also visited the booths of two other renowned slow-food producers of hard cheeses. As far as I know, their products are available through their websites.

Powidl (“powidła”) – traditional plum preserves made from Polish plums, fried slowly over a bonfire in huge cauldrons; industrially made preserves are available in every food store; artisanal ones are not so easy to buy;

Fruit Preserves (“konfitury”) – very traditional ones as well as some with the addition of non typically Polish spices and flavors) (for example cardamom, amaretto); as well as naturally pressed fruit juices (“soki”) and fruit syrups (“syropy”);

Venison Charcuterie (“wędliny z dziczyzny”) – sausages and hams prepared from cured boar and roe deer meat. This type of charcuterie was more popular before the Second World War. The tradition to prepare it is reviving slowly now. Venison meat is easily available in food shops in Poland, but charcuterie made from it is very rare (the products are awfully expensive as for Polish conditions). I also found charcuterie (including raw sausages), made from ostrich meat – which my stomach had a difficult time to digest, and which are not extraordinary in taste (ostrich farms have been popular in Poland in recent years; but I am not an amateur of this bird’s meat as ostriches do eat anything including mobile phones and pens!).

Nalewka (Liqueur – correct me, if my translation is not proper); It is a general name for a traditional strong alcoholic beverage (usually around 40 %). It is prepared by maceration of herbs, fruits, spices, flowers, sugar, honey and so on. As opposed to regular liquors, “nalewka” usually is aged and must be stored for several weeks, months, or even years, before its final preparation. Very often its name is derived from its main ingredient (for example: apricots (“morelówka”), haw (“głogówka”), juniper (“jałowcówka”). The most renowned manufacturer of home-made “nalewskas”, Mr Hieronim Błażejak from Toruń, probably gained all possible prizes in various festivals. He invented 162 different flavours (what a pity that his webpage is in Polish only).

Breads (“pieczywo”; “chleby”): all possible types of organic wheat, spelt and rye breads; with the addition of spices, seeds and so on.

Pickles (“przetwory”) – omnipresent sour cucumbers and cabbage, but also pickled mushrooms (“grzybki marynowane”) – such as boletus, lactarius delicious, chanterelles; and other pickled vegetables;

Smoked fish (“wędzone ryby”) – Poland has a lot of lakes; the quality of soft water is unequal now, but there are still some clean lakes, rich with various types of fish. Warm smoking soft water fish have been popular in Poland for ages. Nowadays it is difficult to find good artisanal products like those I saw in Gruczno. This is true with many other products, of course. Distribution channels are weak, too, and in the south of Poland, Northern specialties are rare (in addition, small entrepreneurs cannot afford to have their products carried by big food store chains). Their smoked soft water fish like, for example, smoked eel, was excellent, full of flavor, not too salty and not too dry. On the contrary, smoked tuna and smoked tiger shrimps did not enslave my heart; the fish were awfully expensive (as far as I remember, around 20-25 euros per kilo);

Organic Oils, like, for example - Colza Oil or Linen Oil (the first one made by the Rutkowski family. For years, colza oil had a bad reputation in Poland, because in the eighties one could buy only refined modified oil, which was unhealthy. It is slowly changing nowadays. The oil is made from Polish non modified colza seeds and is rich in unsaturated fatty acids.  The linen oil, made by Krystyna just received a first place award in its category during the Festival.

Organic Honeys (“miody”) from small apiaries from various types of local trees and flowers; traditional cakes, cookies and sweets; local fruits and vegetables;

Some exhibitors presented foreign organic wines, tea and cider from the Basque country or Greek products including halva (of which I am not a great fan).

Aside from the products that were presented, one could also taste some regional dishes, such as: traditional dumplings, regional soups (for example, a type of sour cabbage soup from the Podhale region – “kwaśnica”; buttermilk soup; fried or marinated fish; baked potatoes with fillings; sausages, hunter’s stew – “bigos”, meats, including venison). Nevertheless, I can no longer look at the traditional, huge slices of bread spread with lard - pork’s fat (“smalec”) and topped with sour cucumber. This peasant, particular preparation despite the change of a political system, is still the king of food festivals!

Finally, I was absolutely fascinated by Barbara Rożniak’s products. Her clay plates, pots, pans and jugs take you into the early Middle Ages. They are made using original methods from the Middle Ages, and for the purpose of rediscovering them, Barbara has visited numerous archeological sites.  She is regularly invited to many events in Poland and abroad.


miss_coco said...

Magda, to i ty tam byłaś i miód i wino piłaś ?
Wspaniały reportaż ! Fajnie, że znów jesteś w sieci.

ulcik said...

wspaniały reportaż :) dziękuję i mam nadzieję wybrać się za rok :)

Tilianara said...

Wspaniale opisany Festiwal, aż żal że się tam w tym roku nie wybrałam. Ale na szczęście zapowiada się, że to będzie już stała impreza :)
Ale co ważniejsze to prawdziwa przyjemność poczytać o tym po angielsku u Ciebie - uwielbiam te lekcje angielskiego :)
Ściskam cieplutko :*

Emily Malloy said...

I have died and gone to heaven!

I am of Polish heritage, you know! Seeing this was quite wonderful.

Thanks so much for sharing:)

Delishhh said...

What a great post and reading about all the food. Wish i could be there.

quinoamatorka said...

Witaj, Magdaleno, relacji jeszcze nie czytałam, ale zapraszam Cię do zabawy:

Karolina said...

Magdo, i ja Cie upolowalam:



Szalony Kucharz said...

Nice place (minus the dirty linen)! Great article, beautiful pictures as always. And you've managed to capture a Polish mustache bearer - excellent! A proper tash on a proper man's face is a sight rarely seen nowadays.

As regards nalewkis and liqueurs, there is a slight yet significant difference between the two. Both are flavoured alcohols, that's for sure, but liqueur is usually spirit sweetened and watered down with some sort of syrup, whereas nalewka is made by macerating flavoursome ingredients in distilled spirit, usually for a long period of time. The resulting alcohol is therefore more "noble", if I may use such term, than a liqueur, even if the liqueur is Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge. Technically speaking, gin is a type of nalewka, being a spirit infused with juniper and other spices. The Polish name for gin is jałowcówka (from jałowiec = juniper). In similar manner, malinówka will be raspberry nalewka (malina = raspberry), orzechówka - walnut nalewka (orzech = (wal)nut), głogówka - haw, anyżówka - aniseed, kawówka - coffee, piołunówka - wormwood, wiśniówka - cherry, and so on, the varieties are as many as there are many different herbs, spices and fruits to give flavour to spirits.

Tanantha @ I Just Love My Apron said...

Yeah I couldn't sleep with knowing the sheet and pillow were not fresh! That seemed like a really great event and worth the trip. Goose breast? Hmm..I wanna try this!

buruuberii said...

O Magda, to na takiej wyprawie bylas - piekne przywiozlas zdjecia i fajnie to opisalas. Dobrze, ze jest ten festwal i chcialo by sie wiecej, tak by nie musiec planowac calych wakacji by sie tam wybrac :)

A co najbardziej Cie zachwycilo, co najbardziej smakowalo, a co rozczarowalo?


italia od kuchni said...

Uwielbiam takie imprezy. Byłabym w swoim żywiole.
Obowiązkowa lekcja polskiej kuchni dla każdego cudzoziemca ;)

Bea said...

Magdo, niesamowity reportaz! Bardzo zaluje, ze mnie tam nie bylo... Ale kto wie, moze i mnie sie kiedys uda do Gruczna zawitac?
Jestem pewna, ze niezwykle trudno by mi bylo zdecydowac, co powinnam kupic (najchetniej bowiem kupilabym wszystkiego po trochu ;)).

Pozdrawiam serdezcnie!

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