Bulgaria at Cheese 2009
25 Jun 09
Bulgaria will be featured in the seventh Cheese with Tcherni Vit Green Cheese and Karakachan Sheep, Slow Food Presidia that will have an exhibition space in Via Principi di Piemonte, the street dedicated to showcasing protection, promotion, consultation and support projects put into practice by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity in Italy and abroad.
Tcherni Vit Green Cheese
The quiet village of Tcherni Vit is huddled among the peaks of the Balkan Mountains, known in Bulgaria as the Stara Planina mountain. The Tcherni Vit (Black winding) River flows through the village cutting it in half. The air heavy with humidity provides the perfect condition for the aging of the unique Blue Cheese (known to the locals as zeleno sirene or Green Cheese), which is made only in the village of Tcherni Vit and surrounding communities, and only in very small quantities.
Sheep from some of the 60 families in the village are gathered together after St. George Day, the Day of the Shepard, on May 6th when the lambs are sold. The native breed of Teteven sheep are small. The sheep are taken up into the mountain pastures to graze until the end of September or early October. The barrels are left in the mountains until the end of the grazing season, then brought down to the village in October and stored in the cellars. The molds do not begin to form until the barrel is opened. Once exposed to the moist air the molds form spontaneously quickly covering the exterior. If there are holes in the paste the molds also penetrate the inside of the cheese, transforming the cheese to one of the very few with a natural blue marbling.
The goal of the Presidium is to preserve Tcherni Vit Green Cheese, which is in grave danger of extinction because the last traditional producer, who is almost 80-years old, has decided he can no longer make it.
Understanding the importance of preserving this cheese and cheese-making tradition, the young Mayor of Tcherni Vit has started making the cheese, and is looking to find others to join him. A building is being renovated that will serve as a central place to age, store and sell the cheese.
Together with the old cheese maker, all the steps of the production process will be documented and a production protocol will be written defining the care and feeding of the sheep, the production and aging processes for the cheese, vouching for the final product’s traceability and high quality. Tcherni Vit Green Cheese will then be promoted in Bulgaria as well as on the international market.
Tcherni Vit, Teteven municipality, Lovech district, Balkan Range
Tel: +359 885 432 540
This traditional Karakachan breed of sheep was once plentiful in Bulgaria. In the early 20th Century there were 500,000. By the late 1950s, when farms were nationalized, the number had shrunk to 160,000, and today there are only about 400.
The sheep are small, about 57 cm (1.87 feet) at the withers, with short and thin tails. The wool is coarse and long - up to 40 cm (15,4 inches) and the color changes with age, becoming lighter. When young the animal is black, then brown, and ends up with almost grey fur. Sider and Atila Sedefchev from SEMPERVIVA - the Bulgarian nature protection organization that specializes in the conservation of local breeds that are threatened by extinction - started the project to save the Karakachan breed dog in 1992. It is one of the oldest European breeds in Europe and was used to guard livestock - mainly sheep - and protect them from wolves and bears in the high mountains. While searching for these dogs, the sheep were discovered, as well as a traditional breed of Karakachan horses. These workhorses are used to carry baggage, traveling the dangerously narrow and high rocky paths. The Karakachans are Balkan nomadic people who were livestock breeders. They are thought to be descendants of the ancient Thracian livestock breeding communities located in the high mountains of Bulgaria.
Each sheep produces about 50-60 liters of milk each season. The milk is very rich (fat content of 6.5 to 8%) and high quality. About 20 kilos of white cheese, called Sirene, are made each day, 400 kilos each year. Yogurt, which originated in Bulgaria, is also made each day.
At the beginning of 2000 SEMPERVIVA opened a farm as a project to recover the Karakachan breeds. Today the farm is self-financed. There are 350 Karakachan sheep, 30 Karakachan horses and 45 Karakachan dogs.
The objective of the Presidium is to bring attention to and preserve this traditional breed of sheep. There are only a small number left because they have been bred with other varieties. The producers have worked for more than ten years to find pure breeds; searching remote mountainous areas where some poor shepherds live and have kept their flocks separate from others.
The aim of the Presidium is to revive the breeding of this heritage sheep breed and to valorize the products obtained by Karakachan sheep’s milk: white cheese and yogurt. Nowadays in Bulgaria, in the majority of shops and restaurant, industrial cheeses and dairy products are sold, while the hand-made products are neither appreciated nor valued. It is therefore necessary to work in order to promote them and to build a taste consciousness.
Vlahi, Pirin Mountains, Blagoevgrad Province, Southwest Bulgaria
Atila and Sider Sedefchev
Tel: +359 888 788121 - +359 886839137