Anyone familiar with the food of the Balkans will know how difficult it is to find cured meats that are not smoked. When Slow Food members in Bulgaria came across meurche, an exceptional cured meat encased in a pig’s bladder and preserved under ashes, they immediately realized its cultural, social and economic potential.
Gorno Draglishte is a small town in the valley that separates the Vidin Mountains, the highest in Bulgaria, from the Rila massif. Despite being just a few kilometers from Bansko, the country’s most popular winter tourism destination, Gorno Draglishte does not benefit from the area’s influx of tourists and suffers from the same problems as the rest of rural Bulgaria: unemployment, a population exodus to urban centers and a lack of services.
In the past, each family would butcher its sole pig before Christmas. The pigs would be raised in a semi-wild state and fed a diet based on acorns and nettles. Though the men would slaughter the pig, the preparation of meurche was a task reserved solely for the women, who would unite in groups for the occasion.
The recipe was complex and required great patience. The more noble parts of the pig—the fat, leg and shoulder—were roughly cut into small cubes, then mixed with salt, pepper and spices (cumin, dried dill seeds and leaves, coriander). The mixture was packed into the pig’s bladder and stomach, then lightly pressed to obtain a flat, round sausage, weighing up to 2 kilos.
The area’s harsh winters and bitter winds meant the meat could be cured without being smoked. The meurche was hung up to dry in the attics of the traditional wooden houses. In the late spring, when temperatures begin to rise, it was moved to the cellar and preserved in a special wooden container, completely buried in ashes, where it aged for up to 16 months. Meurche was reserved for special occasions and mostly eaten uncooked, accompanied by a glass of rakija, the local brandy.
Traditionally meurche was kept until September, when the farmers could enjoy it after their hard work in the fields, harvesting potatoes and corn.
Until 2011 only one producer still regularly prepared meurche. The Presidium’s prime objective has been to revive the production of this cured meat and involve new producers through developing a production protocol, improving techniques of production to improve the product quality. The Foundation will also help to promote meurche in Bulgaria and on the international market. Once a cohesive group of producers has been identified, the Presidium will help them to identify and renovate a processing and aging facility.
Gorno Draglishte, Razlog municipality
Nadka Kroteva, producer
Georgi Kostov, producer
Hristo Altanin, producer
Toma Krotev, producer
Zahari Krotev, producer
Nadezda Kroteva, producer
Georgi Zhegov, producer
Velika Pandeva, producer
Vassil Chenov - pig breeder
tel. +359 885886722