Cheese in a Sack Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sir iz Mijeha (“cheese in a sack”) from Herzegovina is characterized by the large chestnut-colored sheepskin sack that encases it. The size of the sheep itself, whose skin provides the casing for the cheese, dictates the size of the finished product, which ranges from thirty to seventy kilograms. It is the container, “the sack”, that makes this product unique.
Traditionally from Herzegovina, Sir iz Mijeha is produced with raw sheep milk or cow milk, or a combination of the two.
The portion of sheep milk comes from the Pramenka, a heritage sheep breed prized for its milk, meat and wool, is white with black heads and legs.
The cow milk comes from two native breeds – the Busa and the Gatacka – which were once common throughout Bosnia Herzegovina, but have now been largely replaced by imported breeds. The Busa, which has been present in the Balkans since the Neolithic period, is a small, hardy cow well suited to the area’s harsh environment and severe winters. Usually the Busa’s coat is gray, chestnut red and sometimes black (with a darker dorsal stripe). The Gatacka is a cross between the Busa and Tyrolian gray bulls brought to Herzegovina to the Gatacka region in 1906. Slightly larger than the Busa, it is characterized by its gray coat.
Shortly after milking, it is filtered with a cotton cloth and immediately processed. Coagulation takes about an hour and a half after the rennet is added and the curd settles at the bottom. Using a large ladle, the curd is broken into walnut-sized lumps to facilitate the draining of whey. The mass is then arranged on a cloth and pressed with a stone for about 12 hours. Later, the curd is broken again by hand, salted and packed into the sheepskin using a stick (the curds must pressed into the bottom of the sack to avoid forming air pockets, which results in undesirable fermentation). It takes many days to fill a sack since such a large quantity of high quality milk is required. Once filled, the sack is sealed shut and placed in a cool place suitable for aging. The aging period varies between two and three months.
Preparation of the sack requires a particular technique: the sheep must be slaughtered without damaging the skin, shorn and washed with boiling water and whey. When the sack is dry, the feet and the neck are tied and it is filled with air. It is then hung to dry in an area used for smoking meats. The sack is washed a second time and dried in open air until it becomes supple.
The cheese becomes white or pale yellow once aged. In Herzegovina, it is traditionally served as a first course, accompanied with boiled potatoes or with ham and ustipici (fried dumplings).
The Presidium was founded in collaboration with the Province of Arezzo and Ucodep, an Italian NGO operating in South East Europe and forms part of the project “Taste of Herzegovina”, sponsored by the Tuscan Regional Government. The Presidium is now part of a project for the “Protection and development of traditional and valued farm products of Herzegovina”, developed by the NGO Oxfam Italia and CEFA, with several institutional and technical partners. Among Italian partners, the Associazione nazionale per la tutela e la valorizzazione dei formaggi sotto il cielo (ANFOSC) makes a fundamental technical contribution to the realization of the activities.
The cheese is currently produced in three ways: with cow’s milk (in winter), with sheep’s milk (in summer) and with a mixture of both.
In an initial phase, the presidium will create an association of producers. Later, a production protocol will be developed to establish regulations in order to obtain a consistent, recognizable product of high quality. Production will need to be reviewed to ensure that producers can operate according to regulations and market the cheese. By promoting this cheese, the presidium hopes to safeguard the two native breeds: the Pramenka (sheep) and the Gatacka-Busa (cow).
Villages in Herzegovina
12 producers in Herzegovina
Miroslav Glogovac (President)
Association of Hercegovina cheese in the sack producers
Tel. +387 65 731228
Prozor Rama Municipality:
Tel. +387 63 801190
Tel. +387 36 787104
Tel. +387 63 422097
Tel. +387 62 580818
Tel. +387 61 304357
Tel. +387 36 723226
Tel. +387 65 974045
Tel. +387 65 731228
Tel. +387 59 482388
Tel. +387 65 985925
Tel. +387 65 819416
Tel. +387 65 732866
Slow Food Presidium Coordinator
Tel. +387 65731228