Croatian island bestowed with “best cheese in the world”

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In Croatia, the Adriatic country with over 1,000 islands, there is one so special called the “Lunar Island”.

At first glance, Island Pag has a moon-like surface. It is rocky and bare, just white rock set amongst the blue sea and sky. Thanks to the Bora, a strong wind that is blowing from a seaside mountain range, half of the island is completely naked.

In such environment, one would assume it is not a place to live, let alone for sheep farming. Nevertheless, the island is a home for more than 30,000 sheep and the “best cheese in the world” “Paski sir” or Pag cheese.

In July, at the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich, UK, “Paski sir” from Cheese Dairy Gligora won a gold medal. It is just one in a series of awards, a series that started in 2002 when Pag cheese won a bronze medal at Italian fair in Brescia in the category of sheep milk cheese.

“Yes, I remember the first award in Italy. I was very proud because I started this business with an idea to make the best cheese in the world. And I succeeded”, Ivan Gligora, director of Gligora Dairy told Xinhua.

“Since then, there was not a year that we didn’t win the most important awards at highly acclaimed word contests”, Gligora says. He dedicated his life to cheese that his family produces in a little village Kolan on Island Pag. “It was a hard work from the start. I didn’t get a lot of support, in the beginning, some people even tried to stop me, but I tried to show them all who I am and what I can do”, he remembered.

“What’s the secret of the best cheese in the world? Persistence and expertise”, Gligora answered without much thinking. Knowledge is a key factor, he repeated but admitted that Pag’s climate and unique sheep were also very important.

The key aspect of Pag’s micro climate is the famous northern wind Bora. From the nearby mountains, the wind comes down to the sea surface and creates the fog made up of tiny sea drops. The wind dries them, turns them into salt and spreads the salt along the island’s vegetation. Besides, herbs such as sage, thyme, mint, and immortelle grow on the island, providing a unique recipe for sheep on the island. Thus, sheep milk cheese from Island Pag is special.

Sheep from Island Pag are also a unique breed. They are small and skinny, but strong enough to live through the winter when Bora wind can blow up to 200km/h. Throughout the year they are kept freely on pastures. “Our shepherds from all over the island are milking them completely traditionally as hundred years before.

Everything only manually and everything outdoor”, Ruzica Gligora, Tourism Services Manager at Gligora Dairy told Xinhua.

“Just imagine how hard it is for shepherds to milk in the winter when Bora blows. Fortunately, people here are hard working”, Gligora said. Sheep are milked twice a day from January to June. On average one sheep produces about one liter of milk a day while it takes about seven litter of milk to make one kilo of cheese.

Although “Paski sir” has a long tradition, it wasn’t known outside Croatia until the Gligora family put it on the world map of cheese. Today, they produce 500 tons of cheese every year and that’s the best they can do. There are only around 30,000 sheep on the 305-square-kilomoter island due to the limited number of pastures.

“We could sell three times more cheese that we can produce. Cheese from Pag doesn’t need promotion. But it can be used for other purposes, such as the promotion of the island”, Bernard Marzic from Tourist Board  of Pag told Xinhua.

Dairy and cheese production has taken a special place in the economy of Island Pag, meanwhile contributing to tourism, the major industry of the island and the country, by attracting visitors to cheese factory tours.

Each year, more than 10,000 visitors come to Kolan to see Gligora dairy and taste “Paski sir”. Visitors can tour the production facility in the dairy, visit the ripening room in the cellar and taste cheeses. “This is really special. I have never tasted such cheese. My favorite is the one from olive residue”, a visitor from Italy said.

Ivan Gligora is happy to see happy customers.  “Every job is fulfilling if you are successful. I’m happy that I am working in cheese production because it lets a person to be creative. If there is an art in dairy, then it is a production of Paski sir”, he concluded.

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