Cascaval is a Romanian cheese that was traditionally made only from raw sheep’s milk. However the name today has expanded, referring to a number of yellow firm pasta filata cheeses produced using cow and/or sheep’s milks. Since 2005, many regional variations of the cheese have been protected as PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) products at the E.U. level, including Cascaval de Moeciu, Cascaval de Sibiu and Cascaval de Tarnita.
Resembling caciocavallo in name, taste and production process, it’s easy to recognize that cascaval is a distant relative of the famous Italian cheese. While it’s commonly believed that the name caciocavallo results from the cheese having been attached to ropes on either side of a horse’s (cavallo’s) back, some Slovenian historians have argued that Romanian cascaval originated not in Italy, but was instead created by a group of native Balkans known as the Aromanians. They argue that the word cas (cheese) was combined with cavallo to refer to the movement of the Aromanians to the mountain pastures during summer. In any case, similar versions of this cheese can be found not only in Italy and Romania, but also throughout the modern-day Balkans and even in the Middle East.
Cascaval is rindless with a firm yellow paste. Flavor is mild, salty and slightly sharp. Many smoked versions are also available.
Cascaval is ubiquitous in Romanian cuisine. It’s featured in some of the most popular national dishes, such as cascaval pane, in which it’s coated in bread crumbs and fried, and in mamaliga cu branza, a dish made from cornmeal, sour cream and cheese. It also works well in sandwiches and as a snacking cheese. Pair it with a pilsner.