The Drama Queen

Written by  Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Photos by Zrinka Balabanić

Much like any love affair between a man and woman, it is often fiery, wounding and devastating.

At other times it is inspiring, enchanting and nurturing.

Bora on Sea
Bora on Sea

Its’ ups and downs are always surprising and whimsical. Never predictable, and prone to be unremittingly mysterious, its’ unleashed forces are wild, untamed, certainly reminiscent of unchecked passion and love.

Nature can be tempestuous, dispiriting, even dangerous, yet it’s also soothing at times, a presence bearing sublime gifts. It must always be seen as a threat with explosive potential, yet Nature also has its’ forgiving side, a gentility and caress that  offers the prospects of abundance, discovery, and new fertile horizons.

Such is the dual nature of this “Drama Queen,” the Bura, the legendary Croatian winds that sweep through the Dalmatian Coast at different times during the year.

Heavy Clouds Over the Island of Pag
Heavy Clouds Over the Island of Pag

It can be a blessing to cheesemakers on the barren island of Pag, delivering salt from the sea to the isle’s pastures—and to herbs such as thyme, sea fennel and sage—which eventually give the sheep’s milk a distinct salty flavor. That saltiness has increasingly earned Paski sir cheese numerous international awards.

Watching this robust cheese being produced in family-owned farms—and sampling several homemade recipes—are certainly a delight. It’s a fabulous family outing, a way to really savor authentic Croatian culture—and to have a “farm to table” experience.

But the “Drama Queen” still looms. While adventure-seeking sailors welcome the gales and gusts, the Bura is also notorious for closing bridges and disrupting life all along the Dalmatian Coast with its hurricane strength 170 km/h winds.

The Sea Stirred by the Bora
The Sea Stirred by the Bora

Again like a lover, its’ bursts can be short-lived. Let still ferocious.

These winds gather strength in the east over the mountains ringing the coast, then roll down the slopes and spin towards the Adriatic flinging outdoor furniture and trees wildly in the air.

That’s the dark side. Funnel-shaped winds. Uproarious seas that challenge even the most skillful sea captains. Swelling gusts coming from very direction.

Colorful Sky
Colorful Sky

It’s that changeability which makes the Bura particularly troublesome. Like some partners or lovers, there’s no reading this Queen—and in Croatia where sailing between magical sun-kissed isles is a chief allure for international travelers, boating can mean great derring-do adventures.

Such spasmodic gusts present (especially in the winter when the Bura rages most intently) bouts with V-shaped winds of incredible speed.

As the “Croatia Full of Life” website advises, “the Bura spreads like a fan. The larger the bay, the larger its’ blowing fan.”

So take heed. Sailing is not easy in the “clash of sea currents.”

No one ever said love is clear sailing.

The Rainbow Over the Sea
The Rainbow Over the Sea

Yet the drama can be taken out of your relationship with this tumultuous Queen.

Simply retreat to a small cove—or a roadside haven when the winds rise up. Watch the storm swirl and then dissipate while enjoying the scenery and the predictable bonding over some refreshments.

With all that energy in the air, the pure electricity, all sorts of intriguing prospects become possible.

Memorable moments amid blackened skies. And yes, even love!

 

Wonders from sheep island!

Written by: Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Photos: Tourist Board Kolan, Cheese factory MIH, Cheese producer Šime Oštarić

Grandma Tonica was a risk taker, a woman with a “secret recipe” which she shared with her family—a recipe that is now winning international acclaim.

Back in the 1990s Tonica Pernjak owned a small restaurant on the Croatian island of Pag, otherwise known as “Sheep Island.” Farmers, salt producers and other local people showered her with praise for the hard sheep cheese she hand-made in her basement.

MIH's prized sheep
MIH’s prized sheep

That chorus inspired her. Tired of simply cooking, and hoping to launch a more profitable business that would use old-fashioned cheese production methods, and be environmentally-friendly, Tonica taught her son Dubravko, and later her grandsons, the intricacies of that remarkable recipe— and to have a “passionate” relationship with cheese making.

While she attributes her good health at age 88 to eating “lots of Pag cheese,” Dubravko and his sons learned their lessons well. They devoted themselves to following her recipe to make an indigenous Promenka sheep cheese that is naturally flavored by salt. They also strove to give their cheese various aromatic qualities influenced by the sheep’s grazing on pastures which contained thyme, sea fennel, sage and other herbs.

Treasures await at MIH
Treasures await at MIH

“Tonica had this wonderful dream, the special hands needed to adjust the moisture in the milk, to mold cheese, to really create magic,” insists Šime Baričević, the CEO of MIH SIRANA KOLAN, the Pag company that Tonica’s grandsons Šime and Marin now operate.

“Even though producing cheese on this barren island that is buffeted by strong Bura winds is very difficult work, she remained faithful to her dream. She always prized quality, doing everything by hand, keeping cheese on wooden palettes, not plastic, to increase flavor, and she always preached these lessons to her son and grandsons. She had the dream, they made it happen.”

Now appealing to Paksi Sir cheese connoisseurs in Croatia and other European countries, MIH has grown into a dairy with 550 sheep and 27 employees who are scrupulously schooled to respect Tonica’s revered production techniques. They painstakingly filter, cool, filter again the milk, add dairy cultures, and finally mold the cheese.

But as another Pag Island cheese maker Šime Ostarić says, “anyone making hand-made cheese must inject special energy into cheese, put yourself into the cheese. Cheese making can’t just be for money. Your hands must show love.”

MIH Beauties on Display
MIH Beauties on Display

Baričević is certainly passionate about MIh’s “unique” and highly-lauded Tartufin, or black truffle cheese.

“While all of our products are the result of our special environment close to the sea, our truffle cheese is unrivaled. We only use the choicest black truffles from Istria, so the smell is fantastic. This hard cow cheese made from Pag curd has black truffle aftertaste that is just superior, a cheese that shows our commitment to pure old-fashioned quality.”

MIH Cheese Makers
MIH Cheese Makers

Compared to the island’s largest cheese company Paksi Sirana, MIH with its’ 550 sheep is a relatively small company. That allows MIH to maintain the highest quality, and to make other artisanal cheeses such as Otancan, a cow and sheep cheese, and Kolanjac, a cow cheese. Both are also highly-regarded by aficionados.

Yet on Pig  where scores of small producers offer tourists a selection of homemade cheeses on their farms and in Kolan houses, Šime Oštarić is a one-man, boutique cheese maker.

“Of course I want to profit from my work,” say this 31-year-old who only owns 50 sheep on his small farm near Kolan. “But i do this very hard work because I really do love the whole process.”

Artisan Šime Oštarić at work
Artisan Šime Oštarić at work

“My mother Maria taught me everything I know about cheese making. I’d come home from milking the sheep, and she’d patiently explain all of her secrets to me. That’s what cheese making is, secrets, your hands, your love, and also knowing the wind here, the ferocious wind here.

“The Bura can be very cruel, drying the land, and making it hard for the sheep to eat. Then I have to buy corn for them and hope. Hope to survive, and to show people that my cheese is made my way with the greatest of love.”