The traditional Serbian cuisine mostly revolves around meat, cheese, peppers, and potatoes. It’s been giving the headaches to ethnologists and social scientists for years to determine what’s originally Serbian, and what developed in other countries and just heavily influenced Serbian cuisine. One unique Serbian milk product, however, stands out and was registered as the original Serbian product, the cheese-like cream called kajmak (or kaymak).
Kajmak is a fresh dairy product, rich in milk fat (around 60%), with distinctive flavor and consistency. Although kajmak is used in many international cuisines throughout the Middle East and South-East Europe, it’s recognized as an original Serbian product. The English equivalent, at least for the main aroma, is skim milk. However, don’t take this too seriously as kajmak may taste similarly, but it is a totally different thing.
Kajmak is usually made in Serbian farmers’ homes with fresh milk. Although there are several brands that make it commercially and sell in stores, it’s nowhere near the original homemade kajmak. It is made by patiently heating the fresh milk and then cooking it on the low temperature for several hours. After this, the milk is left to rest and cool down, and this is exactly when the kajmak formation starts. The fat from the milk concentrates on the surface, so people remove the top condensed layer from milk and leave it for several days to ferment. Kajmak made like this is entirely safe to eat, as the boiling process kills the bacteria, and the fermenting makes it easier to digest.
The finished product is creamy, but not entirely compact, as there are a few of milk proteins left that keep it lumpy. Kajmak has a strong flavor, somewhere between sour and bitter, and is usually sprinkled with salt during the preparation. The taste will, of course, depend on the individual recipes and the length of fermentation.
Serbs will most likely enjoy kajmak as an appetizer with the thin slices of traditional Serbian bread pogaca, some delicious ajvar, or slices of dry meat. Sometimes, they’ll have it even as a separate meal - a breakfast or a snack.
In most restaurants, it’s also available as a side dish for any of the traditional meat plates - barbecue, roasted meat, even steaks. Its rich flavor enhances the taste of juicy meat and goes well with any salad and bread.
Although the homemade kajmak is the best, don’t worry, many people sell it in Serbian green markets, and many restaurants buy it from the local producers ensuring the premium quality. Most restaurants in the bohemian Skadarlija district in Belgrade, Tinkers Alley in Nis or even fish restaurants in Novi Sad will have kajmak on their menu, either as an appetizer or a side dish to any meal. In other words, wherever you decide to eat - just kindly ask for kajmak, and I am certain that they’ll have this unique and delicious Serbian cheese-like cream in their offer.
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