Istrian cheeses can be found even at Michelin-starred restaurants.
Cow, goat or sheep cheese, fresh or mature? It was a tough decision for all cheese lovers when they had to choose what cheese they would buy, or at least taste, at the recent Cheese Festival which took place in Svetvinčenat in central Istria. For a number of years, the event has been bringing together visitors who like to come to Istria in September and try cheeses produced by small Istrian dairies, reports Jutarnji List on October 1, 2018.
The Istrian small dairies have flourished in the last ten years. Istrian farmers have stopped selling their milk in bulk to large dairies. They realized it was better for them to produce dairy products themselves. And they do not produce just cheeses. Feta, yogurt, sweet cream, fresh cheeses, mozzarella, milk, whey, they have it all. Everything is fresh, top-quality, organic and very delicious. Most of them sell their products on the doorstep or at Istrian and Rijeka farmers’ markets, and some even sell to restaurants with Michelin stars.
One of them is the Zlata Mini-Dairy from Čepić Polje, which has won several gold medals at a number of cheese competitions. The family farm was named the best in Croatia two years ago. “We produce only cow cheeses which we make from our own milk. We have a farm with 80 cows. We offer mature cheeses that have been resting for a year to year and a half. Additionally, we love to experiment and offer cheese with truffles, and we recently won an award at the SirCroFest cheese festival in Zagreb. The secret of our success is in the diet and care for the cattle. Their diet is tailored exclusively to cheese production,” says Nermina Prizrenović.
They produce between 25 and 30 tons of cheese annually, with eight people working on the farm, mostly members of the family which founded the farm in 2011. The initiators were Nermin’s father and mother, after whom the farm was named. The father, Atif, used to be a miner. After retiring, he decided to work on a cow farm in Italy. There he learned everything he needed to know about farming, and he and his wife decided to buy six cows. The number slowly increased and today they have a beautiful farm. They produced their first cheeses in their apartment, and today they are recognised as national champions whose cheeses are equal to those from the island of Pag. “If was difficult in the first two years because people did not know who we were. Now we have a reputation as a high-quality producer and people know about us,” said Nermina.
Istrian cheese-producers are able to sell their products despite high prices. It is difficult to find a good sheep cheese under 200 kuna per kilogram, and goat cheese below 250 kuna. And cow cheeses are not much cheaper.
Brothers Resul and Fekri Maliki from Učka produce only sheep cheeses. Forty years ago, their father came to Istria from the village of Vešala near Tetovo in Macedonia. As an experienced shepherd, he came to Istria looking for pastures because he heard there were many unused ones at Učka. And there he stayed, creating a large family and a farm with 1,500 sheep. His sons Resul and Fekri now keep 600 sheep. They spend summers on the mountain where they produce cheese from May to August. In the winter months, they go to southern Istria and sell their milk. In 2012, their Učka hard sheep cheese received the “Produced at the Učka Nature Park” label.
“We make about 13 kilos of cheese a day. We sell it all. Our cheese is organic because we do everything according to the laws of nature. We do not use any additives, and our sheep are fed only on pastures, we do not give them any artificial food,” says Resul Maliki.
Family ties are what connects the Orbanić family from Kašćergan near Pazin as well. They have a family business which employs 13 people. Most of them are agronomists or are studying to become one. “We have 60 cows on the farm and produce everything from the ground up. That includes the cattle feed. Our semi-hard cheese has won the main prize at a small dairy competition in Zagreb. We sell most of our products on the doorstep, and some in the health food stores” says Josipa Kazalac.
She is a member of the younger generation of family cheese-makers who will proudly continue the tradition. After she graduates, she will return to Istria and continue to do what the generations before her have created from nothing.
That is the main award for their efforts to create their own products and the brand which has made Istria famous – in addition to wine, truffles, olive oil and prosciutto.
Translated from Jutarnji List (reported by Barbara Ban).