When I was in the Czech Republic I was expecting a bounty of great beer, but I didn’t know it was also the land of pickled cheese! Every bar and brewery I visited had some version of Nakládaný Hermelín (which translates to pickled hermelín cheese in English).
Each location had their own take on the dish from serving style to spices. My favorite was at Pivovar U Tří růží which served the dish in single serving jars, rather than scooping the cheese and accompaniments out onto the plate.
I took all the Nakládaný Hermelíns I tasted and made a recipe for my favorite version.
Selecting a Cheese
The cheese is star of the show. So how do you pick the right one?
In and around the Czech Republic this dish is made with hermelin cheese. (Not surprising as this cheese is the namesake of the appetizer!) Hermelin is sold in all the grocery stores in the Czech Republic packaged as a spreadable cheese. It reminds me of the Laughing Cow cheese wedges here in the United States. The cheese has a soft, white edible rind and a creamy light yellow paste in the center. The flavor is not strong at all, it’s like fresh cream accented with butter.
Since we’re not likely to find hermelin outside that part of Europe, the closest substitute is a young camembert. Make sure the camembert hasn’t been ripened because this introduces some funky fermentation flavors to the mix. It is delicious but doesn’t work well in this dish. If camembert is too hard to find a young double cream brie would also fit the bill. Any cheese that is creamy, mild, and soft with a bit of a rind will work in this recipe. I got the Camembert from Trader Joe’s and it worked great!
Other Nakládaný Hermelín (Czech Marinated Cheese) Ingredients
The elements of this recipe are pretty straightforward and should be available in most grocery stores, this is what I use when I make this cheese snack at home.
Neutral Oil. I use canola oil but any clean tasting oil would work like avocado or grapeseed oil. A server in Prague told me that it was vegetable oil. The less flavor the oil has, the more you’ll be able to taste the notes from the cheese, onions and spices.
Paprika. This is the sweet paprika that is beloved as a flavor all over Europe. It’s popular as a potato chip variety and in flavored snack mixes. This recipe is made for that mild sweet paprika and not Spanish smoked paprika. The smokey flavor would over power the delicate cheese.
Chilies. In Prague the chilies had a mild spice. These fresno chilis are slightly spicier than a jalapeno pepper but I like the fruity flavor they contribute as opposed to the vegatal flavor of jalapenos. Either pepper would work here though. Wax peppers would also work well here if you have them.
Spices. I found bay leaves, peppercorns, and allspice berries to be common throughout the dishes I ate in Czech bars and breweries, but if you have a favorite spice throw it in! I could see car
How to Layer The Ingredients
There are many techniques for layering the cheese and vegetables before pouring the marinade over them. I saw some Nakládaný Hermelín that sandwiched the onions and peppers between slices of cheese and then marinated those little “sandwiches.” Other restaurants had slices of whole onions layered like disks within the jar. Then, when serving the appetizer each plate had one onion dish topped with cheese.
I layered my ingredients in a way that the marinade is able to surround each piece and infuse it with paprika flavor while softening it. In the sandwiching example, the marinate would have a hard time reaching the onions. My method gives the dish a more rustic, down home look. For a fancier presentation their are many ways the cheese could be sliced like triangles or long rectangles.
What to Serve with Nakládaný Hermelín
Nakládaný Hermelín is a great appetizer by itself. However, serving it with bread is great option. The bread make a perfect mop for any left over paprika flavored marinade after you’ve cleaned your plate. Since the dish is subtle in flavor, I like serving it with some pickled vegetables or salty olives on the side to provide some contrast.
This would also make a fun piece for a charcuterie board. Serve a jar of Nakládaný Hermelín alongside cured meats, other cheeses, and vegetables as one element on a full spread.
Of course, this Czech snack is made to eat with beer! A Czech Pilsner like Pilsner Urquell makes a great match for this dish. The Pilsner is a little bitter and has a subtle buttery flavor that brings out more flavors in the cheese than are noticeable eating the cheese alone. Most beers without a strong flavor like Dark Milds or Blond Ales will also pair nicely with a low intensity dish like this.
Easy Nakládaný Hermelín
For the Marinade
- 1 cup Neutral Oil (I use canola)
- 1.5 tbsp Paprika (Sweet, not smoked)
- 1.5 tbsp Salt
For the Cheese
- 2 Fresno Chilies, thinly sliced or other mildly spicy chili
- 1/2 White Onion, sliced
- 8 oz Hermilin or Camembert, cut into cubes the younger the cheese the better
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1.5 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp all spice berries
- Make the marinade. Mix the oil, paprika, and salt together in a jar or small bowl.
- In two small or one lager jar, layer the cheese. Start with a layer of white onion pieces and chili. Top the onion layer with cubes of cheese. Then add another layer of onion and pepper. For a small jar, stop here, for a large jar continue to layer until all ingredients are used and the jar is filled.
- Tuck the bay leaf into the side of the jar. Sprinkle the peppercorns and allspice berries over the top of the ingredients.
- Pour the marinade over the cheese. Shake the jar(s) gently to make sure the marinade has filled all of the nooks and crannies in between ingredients.
- Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 days and up to 3 weeks.
- Serve small jars with a large fork. For large jars, scoop a mixture of cheese and onions onto a plate and serve with bread.