It’s remarkable to think it was just 20 years ago since Croatia obtained its rightful independence following a war which many still hold as the most important, if not the only fact they know about this remarkable little country. Though recently Anthony Bordain’s ‘No Reservations’ helped put Croatia back in the thoughts of Americans for all the right reasons with an epic gourmet journey around the coast which culminated on the enthralling Island of Pag, an island of remarkable food and astonishingly delicious cheese.
In 1995, up steps Ivan Gligora, debonair, methodical, unshakable with a sense of humor to match, and a master of his profession after 30 years in the dairy industry. At the top of his game and respected through-out Croatia for his insight and vision, he audaciously gave it all up to start out on his own with little more than a garage and some basic dairy equipment. Determined for the world to recognize and love his beloved Paški Sir, so Sirana Gligora (Gligora Dairy) was born…
Spaulding Gray: First of all, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for our readers. In 2010, the World Cheese Awards chose your Paski Sir as the Best New Cheese. Would you share with our readers how you choose the wheels or batch that you submit to a competition and the process the cheese goes through at the competition to win?
Ivan Gligora: The taste and complexity of our Paški Sir changes dramatically with age, and because we produce (it) exclusively from the island’s sheep milk which is extremely limited, it largely depends on the season as to what age cheese is available. We opened our new dairy in January 2010 and the cheese we sent was produced just 3 months after production started in March. We selected 3 wheels from the same batch and felt no need to iron them first because every wheel we produce is to the same quality standards. At the time of judging they would have been 8 months old and all 3 went on to finish top-of-class with Super Gold Medals and a place in the final.
Spaulding: How did you choose cheesemaking? Did you study cheesemaking or did you lean on-the-job?
Ivan: My family have been making cheese in the village of Kolan since around 1918, this was at a time when life was very tough so if you wanted to survive you had to make the most from every available resource. My family was producing almost everything they needed direct from the land, wine, pršut,meat, vegetables, and of course the cheese which was used more as a bartering tool because it was so valuable. Cheese making and husbandry were a very big part of my childhood but it was my dream to become a teacher. After financial hardship prevented me from following my dream, I took a scholarship as a Dairy Technologist and was at the top of my field for 30 years in Croatia before I opened my own dairy in my home village of Kolan.
SG: Is there a cheese making certification process in Croatia (similar to the Cheese Maker program that Wisconsin has)? If so, please tell us about the process to attain certification.
IG: Not really, cheese making skills have been passed from generation to generation in my family. Certification comes when the customer tells you they love your cheese.
Spaulding: What is the first cheese you remember eating?
Ivan: When I was younger we had Paški Sir all year round in the house but it was too valuable to eat everyday. We ate it only on special occasions with smoked ham and the best homemade olive oils, very fond memories indeed.
IG: Apart from Paški Sir.. I love Camembert but it’s hard to get hold of an authentic piece here in Croatia.
Spaulding: What cheese would you pair with Gyps fulvus? And would you choose beer or wine to drink with your pairing?
Ivan: Ah, a bird milk cheese. Gyps fulvus are engendered here in Croatia so I wouldn’t pair him with any alcoholic drink, just in case. An orange juice maybe.
SG: What is the most obscure cheese you have ever eaten? Where were you and did it require special effort on your part to obtain the cheese?
IG: I’m often given cheese as a gift… a wheel of Casu marzu was given to me by an old colleague who’d been living in Italy and it took a lot of effort to draw up the strength to eat it. If you ever get a chance I’d recommend it, but it’s probably best you don’t find out how it made first.
Spaulding: Ivan, I think I speak for The Lady when I say… you’ve got more guts than we do…
Thanks so much for taking the time to visit with me.
Please Note: Gligora Dairy and its US Partner will sponsor a giveaway tied to this interview. Details will be posted later this week… there will be 3 winners… stay tuned…