From Romanian Pastures

23 Aug 2011

In the Bucegi Mountains, among the highest in the Carpathians, the life of Romanian herders is both tough and beautiful. “Above 1,000 meters there’s no electricity and no paved roads, just a network of bumpy dirt tracks. But the landscape is stunning and many tourists come every year,” says Marian Popoiu. Her family has 20 Turcana sheep and three Romanian Spotted cows, which they milk to produce the local speciality Bucegi Mountains Branza de Burduf, a Slow Food Presidium since 2005. This rare cheese, made from a mix of raw cow and sheep milk, is only produced during the summer in mountain dairies – and is aged in a casing of pine or fir bark for two weeks, or two to three months for more mature cheeses.

Marian’s family has opened a guesthouse a few meters from the farm and they sell almost all their Branza production to guests. The situation is harder for other producers. “The cheese doesn’t travel well and the places are so remote that distribution is difficult,” says Marian. “Most producers are forced to sell their cheeses to traders who come to the dairy and buy them for ridiculously low prices.” The market is saturated with products that use the same name but are made in industrial lowland dairies, not in the mountains. Without supportive policies and an effective labeling system this extraordinary cheese, profoundly linked to the region’s culture and landscape, risks disappearing.

For decades, the government blindly encouraged industrialization, including in the food sector, and the recent entry of Romania into the European Union means having to comply with hygiene regulations often designed for big businesses. These factors have seriously threatened small-scale quality food production, even in the most remote locations. The first step to safeguarding the Bucegi Mountains cheese was to build a high-altitude stâna (cooperative dairy) that complies with all hygiene regulatory restrictions.

Called Ferma Bucegi, all the Presidium producers can now access this new dairy. With the collaboration of Manuela Palamari, the young leader of the Bran-Moeciu Convivium in Brasov, and the Palamaris cultural center where she works, the Ferma Bucegi will also welcome schoolchildren during vacation periods. “Luckily young people have not yet fled our mountains en masse,” said Marian. “The craft of herding is often passed on from father to son. With educational activities, we hope to make the nature of our work known to children who come from other backgrounds too, so that they appreciate the wealth of these places and the sacrifices and beauty of life up in the mountain pastures.”

Producers from Bucegi Mountains Branza de Burduf Presidium will participate in Cheese this year, Slow Food’s international event dedicated to the world of dairy.

For more information on the Presidium, visit

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