The Cheese Whisperer: Croatian Paski Sir
Before today I never tasted a cheese from Croatia, and didn’t think I was missing much. Then I tried Paski Sir, an artisan sheep cheese from Pag Island in Croatia’s northern Dalmatia region. After sampling it I will never again deprive myself of Croatian cheese.
Made from gently pasteurized sheep’s milk, Paski Sir is aged to create a cheese sensation that melts in your mouth with tiny crunches of crystallized milk proteins. After savoring the cheese’s initial tangy butteriness, it finishes with hints of almond, dare I say a bit of salty coconut. Aged but a year, it has an elegant, mature flavor that often takes years to develop.
Paski Sir is a cheese with roots in another age. Until the 20th century, the inhabitants of Pag Island lived in stone huts on the rocky slopes of the island, milking sheep and making cheese. The island’s shepherds shared the grazing pastures as a common area, without private ownership. As the pastures gradually transitioned to private property, traditional shepherds moved into pastoral homes, and women assumed the role of cheese makers. What was once a local, regional specialty, Paski Sir, gained recognition as an excellent, authentic aged sheep milk on the global stage.
The climate of Pag Island makes is a perfect place to craft cheese. The island’s eastern side is dominated by the Velebit mountains on Croatia’s mainland. This unique topography gives rise to the “Pag Bora”, a strong, cool dry wind that gathers in the Velebit’s snowy mountain tops. The Pag Bora gathers strength as it tumbles down the slopes and turns to a dry salty dust. This salty dust falls and mixes with the moisture on the vegetation, coating the rocks and plants. Only the most resilient and aromatic vegetation grows on Pag, most famously the fragrant Pag’s Sage, a purple flowering plant that grows between the island’s limestone rocks. Native sheep, known as Paska Ovca, are famously hardy and graze freely on its wild, salty, herbs and vegetation. This gives their milk and cheese distinct flavors.
Produced in the same region as the popular Dalmatia Fig and Fig-Orange spread, Paski Sir has tremendous flavor that pairs well with fresh or preserved figs. There are many ways to enjoy this cheese, including shaving it atop a salad of fresh local greens, brazil nuts, dried currants and a light balsamic and olive oil dressing. Try grating it and serve over pasta and risotto as you would an aged parmesan or pecorino. Savor Paski Sir, for this unique cheese is a fabulous example of eating locally through the concept of cheese “terroir”: tasting distinct flavors of a geographic region, and helping to support sustainable agriculture across the globe.