Slow Food in Bulgaria continues its quest for food treasures hidden in the rural areas of the country. This time, the two new products aboard the Ark of Taste, the Slow Food catalogue of traditional foods at risk of disappearance, come from Staro Zhelezare, a village in the Hisarya municipality, Plovdiv district. Staro Zhelezare is 40 kilometers from Plovdiv city, making it an easy destination for one-day excursions for citizens and visitors to the city alike. Situated in the Thracian Lowlands, the village was once a place of prosperity counting several thousand inhabitants, a kindergarten and a school. Today the village is inhabited by fewer than 500 hundred people, most of whom are elderly. The local knowledge and traditions are still preserved, however, thanks to the tireless efforts of the local authorities, the chitaliste (cultural center) in the village, and the recently established House of traditions. Thanks to their dedicated work, visitors to the village can now taste home-made bread with sharena sol (colorful salt) and Starozhelezarki starets (cured pork salami).
Starozhelezarska sharena sol (Colourful salt from Staro Zhelezare)
One of the everyday, unpretentious, but essential elements in the food of the people of Staro Zhelezare is sharena sol (colorful salt) – a pungent mixture of local herbs and salt. Savory, fennel and cumin, sweet and chili pepper and mint are cultivated in the gardens in the village specifically for the preparation of this spice. The dry herbs and fennel and cumin seeds were once mixed and smashed in a large wooden mortar (kuttel) while today electric grinders are used. The spice is used for seasoning almost every food. It goes well with kebabs and steaks, cooked eggs, or simply on warm bread. Every house has its own recipe according to the preferences of the family. The peculiarity of the taste of sharena sol from Staro Zhelezare comes from the fennel seeds and the savory. Sharena sol can be sweet or hot, once again from house to house, from family to family.
Starozhelezarski Staretz (Cured meat product from Staro Zhelezare village, Plovdiv district)
Starozhelezarski Staretz is prepared from pig ham that is finely chopped or roughly minced. One kg of meat is seasoned with 40 g salt, 40 g home-made red pepper, 3-4 g cumin seeds and 8-10 g fennel seeds. The meat and spices are mixed well and left to rest for 12 hours. Then the meat is stuffed into bladders, sealed and left to cure during the cold winter months. In spring the sausages are transferred to boxes lined with wooden ash. The first pieces of this delicacy are consumed in late August, at the start of the grapes harvest. It can last until December, when the new Starozhelezarski Staretz is made.
The hard and grey appearance of Starozhelezarski Staretz resembles stone – . But when cut in two, it shows its bright red heart and delivers its unforgettable aroma.
Today, people in the village predominantly buy the meat that they use to make their Starozhelezarski Staretz, but in the past, every house had at least one pig. The animals were kept semi-wild meaning that they could find a variety of nourishing food.
Almost every family in Staro Zhelezare prepares the product for their own consumption. So far, no attempts for artisan production with commercial purposes has been made.