Mavrovo Reka Mountain Pasture Cheeses Macedonia
Set among the Bistra, Korab, Deshat and Shar Mountains, some of the highest peaks in Macedonia, the green forests of the Mavrovo National Park are cut through by the Radika River and its tributaries. A unique and beautiful land, it is unable to offer adequate economic prospects to the local people, and the last 40 years have seen mass emigration out of the country.
Against this background of depopulation and abandonment of the land, shepherding and cheesemaking are still rooted in an ancient tradition that dates back to the Mijaks, a nomadic tribe that settled in the area in the 5th and 6th centuries. The production of cheeses in mountain pastures is an important economic activity, closely linked to the local identity, and has the potential to contribute to a revival of the entire region.
The Mavrovo Park is home to a very special cheese, Kashkaval, possibly the ancestor of all pulled-curd cheeses. The name recalls Caciocavallo, a pear-shaped cheese from southern Italy, but Kashkaval is cylindrical. The sheep's milk cheese weighs around 4 or 6 kilograms and undergoes a long aging in cool, damp locations, following a complex production process. Raw sheep's milk is warmed to around 30-32°C and curdled. Curds are then cut into pieces of around 5 or 6 centimeters long, left to rest, and then cut again to pea-sized lumps. Once the whey has been drained off, the curd is pressed in a cloth and the next day is cut into thin strips which are placed in a wooden basket and heated in salted water (to 70-75°C). The cheese is salted and put in steel molds overnight, then left out in caves for one day before being dry salted with coarse salt 3-4 times for 40 days. At the end of summer, kashkaval is washed with water and sun-dried in the yard for one day, and then aged for a further 4 to 6 months.
Kashkaval is the most interesting and complex of the local cheeses, but the area's ancient shepherding tradition has produced others. Some of the other dairy products made within the park include Belo Sirenje, similar to Greek feta, and the thick, yogurt-like Kiselo Mleko, literally "acidic milk", made from boiled sheep milk cooled to 42-45°C and inoculated with starter culture from previous batches. All are made from the raw milk of a local breed of sheep, the Pramenka-Sharplaninka. In the summer, the sheep graze on the rich variety of grasses and herbs in the meadows of the park's 52 mountains.
The Mavrovo Reka Mountain Pasture Cheeses Presidium has been established to protect and promote the three main products made from the raw milk of Sharplaninka sheep: Kashkaval, Belo Sirenje and Kiselo Mleko.
Initially the Presidium will work with a group of producers to draft a production protocol and guarantee suitable hygiene standards. The Slow Food Foundation will work with experts from the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje on the inclusion of the Mavrovo Reka dairy products in the national register of traditional and typical products, thus legalizing the use of raw milk in their production. The Presidium will also renew and promote the aging of Belo Sirenje in traditional wooden containers (drveni kaci) made by local craftsmen.
Mavrovo National Park
Presidium supported by
Bistrot Del Mondo - First circle of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, Slow Food Scandicci Convivium
Sonja Srbinovska e Natasha Dubrova
Faculty of Agricultural. Sciences and Food,
Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje
15 producers from the Bistra, Korab, Deshat and Stogovo Mountains
Slow Food Presidium Coordinator
Tel. 00389 70 922 429