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. Although men would slaughter the pig, the preparation of meurche was a task reserved solely for women, who would unite in groups for the occasion.
The recipe was complex and required great patience. The best cuts of the pig—the lard, leg and shoulder—were roughly cut into small cubes and mixed with salt, pepper and spices (cumin, dried dill seeds and leaves, and coriander). The mixture was then packed into the pig’s bladder and stomach, and lightly pressed to obtain a flat, round sausage, weighing up to 2 kilos.
The region’s harsh winters and bitter winds meant the meat could be cured without being smoked. The meurche would be hung up to dry in the attics of traditional wooden houses. In late spring, when temperatures started 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 and encourage new producers to join the project. Once a cohesive group of producers has been identified, the Presidium will help them to identify and renovate processing and aging facilities.
Gorno Draglishte, Razlog municipality
One pig breeder and eight producers
tel. +359 885886722