The Lost Art of Transhumance – The Balkans and Slovakia at Cheese

Cheese expanded to include Eastern Europe in 2007, when cheeses from Bulgaria and Romania were featured for the very first time, marking the growing international character of the event. 

We continue to host peculiar cheeses which represent transhumance in Eastern Europe: Tcherni Vit green cheese from Bulgaria and Brânzá de Burduf from Romania, both Slow Food Presidia. From Slovakia, three ambassadors of the Ark of Taste will be starring in Taste Workshops.

 

Transhumance in Tcherni Vit village in Bulgaria, Slow Food Archive

 

When spring comes and snow melts up on the highlands, tasty fresh herbs appear to the easy access of herds. When the herds feed on the rich selection of crunchy new herbs, they produce highly nutritious and tastier milk.

When shepherds use that fresh milk to make cheese right up on the highlands (where there is no contamination), they obtain a more aromatic and nutritious cheese. Transhumance, as you see, is key to making good cheese.

In the Balkans, transhumance used to be common among nomadic groups. Long-distance transhumance, moving livestock between upland summer pastures and lowland winter plains, has both ecological and economic benefits for pastoral societies.

 

Transhumance in Bulgaria, Slow Food Archive

Transhumance prevents overgrazing in the lowlands and keeps mountain pastures open. Communities also benefit from cool pastures and water resources for livestock during the hot summer months. In winter, the transhumance area regenerates itself while the flocks move down to warmer plains for winter.

Nomadic groups lived in harmony with nature, an integral part of the biodiversity of the ecosystems they pass through. In the Balkans, they traditionally spent the summer months in the cool mountains and returned to lowland plains in the winter, taking their livestock with them. The Morlach were a population of shepherds who lived in the Dinaric Alps in the western Balkans, regularly migrating to find better pastures for their sheep flocks.

 

Transhumance in Bucegi Mountains in Romania, Slow Food Archive

 

Groups went as far north as the Balkan Mountains during hot summer months, and they spent the winter on the warmer plains of the Aegean Sea. When the area was part of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, the borders between the countries were relatively free.

As national states emerged in the area of the former Ottoman Empire, new borders prevented the transhumance habits of many pastoral groups in the Balkans, who could no longer pass freely with their livestock across the peninsula.

Nowadays transhumance is disappearing in many parts of the world, along with the dairy products of the tradition. The last representatives of this way of life are the few herders and cheesemakers who still produce cheese on the mountains during summer.

Some of them will be featuring this year at the Taste Workshops Balkans: Pastures and Cheese from East to West and Slovakia: Cheese and Beer, Pastures and Flowers:

  • Tcherni Vit Green Cheese from Bulgariawhich starred at Cheese 2007 for the first time, is a rare example of the remaining pastoral traditions among the Balkan mountains. The Teteven is the local sheep breed used for making this green cheese, and each animal produces about 60 liters of milk per season. The upland period in Tcherni Vit village ends in September or early October.
  • Bucegi Mountains Brânzá de Burduf from Romania is the most prized of Romanian cheeses. The heritage sheep breeds used for this cheese are Turcana and Tigae, both well adapted to narrow paths and high pastures. In essence, Brânzá de Burduf is a slightly different, aromatic version of the more ordinary cheese called caș. Brânzá de Burduf is obtained by aging caș in a fir tree bark, to give it a resinous flavor and enhance its sensory profile. Branza cheese can be aged from 20 days to two to three months, with a spicy flavor that increases with aging.

 

The heritage sheep breeds used for Brânzá de Burduf cheese are Turcana and Tigae, both well adapted to narrow paths and high pastures. (Slow Food Archive)

The decline of transhumance has also caused the loss of many crafts connected to it. The workshops at Cheese will help you learn about the pastoral traditions of the Balkans and the hard-to-find cheeses that its herders still produce.

 

Buket Soyyilmaz

b.soyyilmaz@slowfood.it

 

Click here to see a full list of Ark of Taste dairy products from Bulgaria.

Click here to see the full list of Ark of Taste dairy products from Romania.

Click here to see the full list of Ark of Taste dairy products from Slovakia.

 

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