Delightfully tasty, capturing the strong character of the dry winter wind, creamy yellowish Paski Sir produced on the Croatian island Pag has been described as one of the ten best cheeses in the world. If the awarded quality is not reason enough to make your mouth water, learning what contributes to the distinctive aromas and the traditional way of serving this 100 % sheep milk cheese surely will.
A Salty Heritage
Hard in texture, pairing exceptionally well with wine, this famous artisan cheese born in Northern Dalmatia takes its heritage back to the history of Pag. It was always seen as an important source in economy next to salt extraction. Valued by locals and used as a commodity to market across Croatia, the shepherds' savory masterpiece became a tradition to be passed on from a generation to another. One of the first references to Paski Sir as Pag's main product in addition to sea salt, sage honey and wool came in 1774 with the inscriptions of travel writer Alberto Fortis.
On the hilly parts of the island in the Adriatic Sea, the autochthonous sheep grazed freely. Until the early 20th century, the inhabitants of Pag used dry stone huts, built above the pastures in which they milked the sheep and processed the white liquid nutrient into the famous dairy product. In time, the pastures became privately owned and the basic stone huts have been turned into pastoral homes. Still, the production of Paski Sir was a tradition among the Croatian families: the shepherds commuted to care for the sheep while the women acquired the role of cheese makers.
Nowadays, one of the most admired gastronomic specialties Paski Sir, translated as the Cheese from the island of Pag is produced by factories and independent manufacturers alike.
Tasting Pag's Nature
What sets Pag cheese apart from other cheese recipes? There are numerous aspects contributing to the subtle piquant taste and smell of the awarded product: climate, soil type, vegetation, manufacturing being among the most important. While some may believe that the originality factor lies in the salty diet of the Pag sheep, others prefer to think of a more ''poetic'' determinant: the cold wind blowing on Pag called Bora. The associations draw the attention on the island's nature, also underlining the purity of Paski Sir.
The Velebit mountain range dominates the Eastern landscape of Pag. The altitude giants on the peaks of which hot and cold air amasses are famous for the Bora, a strong, dry wind born during the cold season. Tumbling down to the clear, calm sea, the Bora dries to salt dust scattered all over the island's vegetation. Only extremely resilient plants, most of which aromatic survive the dusty touch of the Bora. The Pag sheep graze on the aromatic vegetation, this one of a kind diet making their milk very fat, permeating the taste of Paski Sir.
The maintenance of the artisan methods in producing the distinctively flavored recipe is another strict condition for the manufacturing of Paski Sir. Being credited the Protected Designation of Origin, the superior tasting cheese ensures the buyer of its Pag heritage and of the fact that the old shepherds' procedure is precise. With the one of a kind sheep milk which cannot be artificially recreated, Paski Sir will always be recognized as a symbol of the Northern Dalmatian island it was born on.
Young Cheese, Ripe Cheese
Even though you can find the much appreciated product no matter when you are traveling to Croatia, the manufacturing of Paski Sir is actually seasonal. Between January and end of June the milking of the domestic sheep takes place. After the milk is being processed respecting the generations' old tradition, the cheese from Pag is left to age between two and eighteen months. The aging period considering aspects like humidity or temperature influences the taste greatly. Therefore, the young cheese creamy, yellowish in color will bare a softer, more gentler aroma while the ripe one in a brownish shade will be slightly harder and spicier.
Once you have picked the famous dairy product known to bring ''complex flavors to the palate'', you need to know how to make the best of this gastronomic experience. Remember that Pag cheese is best served at room temperature; even though it is recommended that it is either refrigerated or stored in a cold room with relative humidity before consumption. More storing advice indicate that it is best that you place your Pag souvenir on a wooden or plastic board and turn it several times a week. While turning, it is indicated that you rub olive oil on it in order to prevent extra drying and the growth of mold.
Complex Flavored Triangles
The Croats will serve Paski Sir cut into triangles, with the rind on without any other dishes that could obscure its wonderful taste. Even if served separately to fully enjoy the quality of each product, in a traditional meal, they would probably include Prsut, a Dalmatian double smoked ham, salted anchovies, Paske bubice (Pag dough), black olives, grapes and Pag's famous Sage honey. Other dishes which use Paski Sir, this time as an ingredient and not as a starter would be gnocchi, risotto, macaroni and polenta.
No matter if you decide for the younger or for the matured version of Pag cheese, they will both pair incredibly well with wine. Sip on Plavac, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Terran if you prefer the amber colored wines or on the Paski Posip, Paske Zutice or Rhine Riesling if white brings you more delight.
Paski Sir is an authentic souvenir and a must try while visiting Croatia and the island of Pag.
Enjoy the country's most awarded sheep milk cheese which has grown as a tradition remembered as well as respected throughout history. Taste the purity of nature knowing that this unique cheese recipe is born of aromatic vegetation seasoned with the salty Bora. Identify the differences between young and ripe Paski Sir and pick your favorite while sipping a glass of wine and watching the sunset fall over the Adriatic Sea.