For breakfast, as a light lunch or as a snack—the milky delicacies have been on the shelves of Hungarian refrigerators for decades. From cheese products to bagged cocoa, everyone can find their favorites—come and visit Büfé for the fifth time!
Even though gastronomy is changing at a massive rate and the exotic ingredients of the world’s cuisines are within arm’s reach now, our hearts still skip a beat when we look at Hungarian recipes and products. It’s enough to think of “krémtúró” or “tejbegríz” (the first is a creamy, sweet dairy product made of túró, the Hungarian version of curd, while the latter is a type of semolina pudding)—these are not only favorites evoking the flavors of our childhood: they also give the much deserved attention to dairy products that Eastern European countries have always been good at. Because the products of the Hungarian dairy industry cannot be mistaken for and can hardly be substituted by anything else—anyone who has ever tried to make túrógombóc (dumplings made of túró) out of cottage cheese knows this.
Yet our infatuation with dairy products was not hardwired into us, quite on the contrary. As milk was considered a cheap, nutrient-dense beverage, records have already remained of school milk programs and plans to increase the milk consumption of children from the time of the world wars. In spite of all this, milk was not particularly popular. People’s affection for it only started to increase in the sixties and seventies, when, thanks to the embargo of the European Economic Community, we couldn’t export milk to Western countries and so we were stuck with an almost one billion liter surplus a year. The polypack packaged milk (also known as bagged milk) was introduced at the same time—later followed by cocoa—which made it easier to transport and also guaranteed higher food safety, even though its home use was a bit long-winded and ceremonious. (A solution for this was developed by Gyula Ernyey and József Gollob, who designed the plastic milk pourer, which we have already introduced earlier in this article – the Ed.)
To motivate consumers, an idea was born: the production of milk-based desserts. The first hit product was the joghurthab (yogurt foam), the recipe and production technology of which was procured by the Budapest Dairy Industry Corporation from the Gervais-Danone group: by the eighties, fifty million boxes were produced of the lemon, strawberry, green apple and raspberry flavored versions in a year. Krémtúró appeared on the market almost at the same time, in its classic angular, flat box, in vanilla flavor. Later on, the raisin and even the smoked cheese, onion-pepper, tomato puree and horseradish versions were released as well, and by the seventies, sales dramatically increased not only in the country, but also in the region: krémtúró was a favorite of Polish kids, too, under the name Serek homogenizowany.
Speaking of túró… If you ask a Hungarian living outside of Hungary which product they miss the most, there’s a good chance they will go with Túró Rudi. Because let’s be honest: there aren’t many Hungarians who don’t like this type of dessert, and even though the recipe has changed a lot since its birth, its popularity is unbroken. We didn’t even come up with it—the employees of the Hungarian Dairy Industry Research Institute traveled to the Soviet Union back in 1954 to explore the Soviet dairy industry. This is where they met глазированный сырок: a chocolaty, round dessert made of sweetened curd and fat. Having returned to Hungary, they experimented with the recipe for more than ten years until they could finally present Túró Rudi—to the greatest shock of the public, since the name made many people think of obscene associations.
The name came from Sándor Klein, a professor at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, who designed the dotted visual identity and the introductory advertising campaign with his students. The name considered immoral at the time didn’t impress the government so much so that it practically couldn’t appear in printed media, which, of course, as usual, made it even more popular by word of mouth. The snack was produced in Budapest and later on in Mátészalka from the late sixties on, with a short shelf life, with a natural flavor—more sour and less sweet than today’s version. In the nineties, it was already available in a large size and with different flavors (filled with strawberry, peach and hazelnut), and the tendency has not stopped ever since. Pöttyös releases fresh versions each year, including ones voted by the audience, such as the version with Szatmári plum jam, chestnut, apple-cinnamon or salted caramel, but they also debut new products every once in a while: including the Pöttyös Pont2, later followed by the Guru, the Tejsüti, the Cocoa Milk and the Fitt product family. However, the old flavors are missed by many—the citric Trudi of the Cserpes brand or the Kockás, which can also be interpreted as a gag (its name means checquered, in opposition to the name of the original Pöttyös, meaning dotted), which has been available since 2009 and is made of túró produced in Etyek as well as chocolate manufactured by the Szerencsi Chocolate Factory, are here to satisfy their needs.
A combination slightly even more extraordinary than that of curd and chocolate is the fusion of chocolate and cheese, and we must admit this one’s not that far from Hungarian gastronomy either. The csokis mesesajt (choco-cheese) debuted in 1967, which we only know from reports today: there are many legends about the birth of the chocolate-flavored processed cheese, some say it was an accident, while others claim it to be a bad joke of the Kádár era—anyone who tasted it agrees that they loved it because it was so bad. Processed cheese spreads were particularly popular in Hungary—they came in three versions, in metal squeeze tubes, plastic tubes and round boxes. The products coming in squeeze tubes, such as the Boci cream cheese, belonged to a more expensive category, while the plastic packaged Camping and Víkend cheese was more difficult to open without bursting the packaging.
It is, at the same time, indisputable that the uncrowned king of the product type has been and still is the Medve brand (the name means bear in Hungarian). The idea of selling cheese in small portions, packaged in round boxes came from the French Léon Bel, who founded the brand La vache qui rit (the laughing cow). In Hungary, the kockasajt (cube cheese) was introduced by Swiss Frigyes Stauffer (it was called that in the vernacular, as in poorer quality it also came in a square-shaped version previously – the Ed.), while the box had a bear on it, alluding to its homeland. Following the roaring success, the factory even exported significant amounts abroad, until it was nationalized in the fifties. Even though they could not use the Medve name, they debuted Mackó (a synonym of medve), made based on a very similar recipe.
And why did we like it so much? It was practical as it had a long shelf life, it was easy to carry, we could spread it on bread or eat it in bites, and its sweetish flavor and versatility made it a favorite for many. Hungarians’ have been known for their inventiveness and for a good reason: we put the cheese cubes in cream soups and even fried it, and so after releasing several flavors, the company even debuted a breaded and sliced version to meet consumer needs. And even though nothing is the same as in the good old days, these products still land in our shopping carts today, to give us a few carefree minutes with familiar and loveable flavors.