Who doesn’t like cheese? Cheese has been one of those things that every nation and almost every region on the planet brags about making the best one out there. To all of us cheese lovers, it just couldn’t be any better - we get that much more traditional and unique milky delights to try. Serbia is no different, and one of the most praised national products, widely acknowledged internationally, is Pirot hard cheese of a distinctive taste, originating in the Serbian mountains in the southeastern part of the country.
Originally, the cheese was made from sheep milk, but nowadays the combinations of sheep and cow milk are more common. Nevertheless, a specific rich taste is still an imperative, and locals strive in delivering the premium quality product.
Aside from a typical fermentation period, similar for producing most cheeses, what distinguishes Pirot hard cheese is the kneading done by hand, the rest period spent in a wicker basket, and the use of only one food preservative - natural salt. After the fermentation that usually takes up to three days, the first batch of cheese is further cooked in a wicker basket, until it thickens, after which the skilled locals’ hands mix it with salt and shape layer by layer of a 5-10 kg roll. Cheese is then left at a high place, where it rests for up to three months to mature, with occasional checks and addition of salt, if necessary.
Even though a delightful taste can be solely the merit of traditional preparation and use of only natural and organic ingredients, most people agree that the area where it’s made brings a significant charm to the flavor. Namely Pirot hard cheese carries a name of the town of Pirot in southeastern Serbia, but most of the cheese comes from the surrounding villages like Gostusa, bounding across Mt. Stara, also known as the Old Mountain.
This mountain is an oasis of wilderness with more than 100 waterfalls, and a lot of herbs like Rtanj tea, widely praised by the alternative medicine supporters. Locals living in the area usually take the animals to sunny pasture in the slopes of the Old Mountain, and it is believed that the milk and therefore the cheese, get their rich taste from the premium quality natural food and water that they get every day.
Needless to say, the best place to try the Pirot hard cheese is in the town of Pirot, also known for its unique tradition of kilim weaving. However, the cheese is really widely praised and finds its way to most of the classy restaurants in Skadarlija in Belgrade and other restaurants across the country. Branded as a unique national product, it’s often exported and reaches even the American continent. So, nowadays you could try the Pirot hard cheese and get a taste of Serbian mountains without even visiting the country. But there are so many things to see and do in the area, it would be a shame to miss them!
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