Somewhere in the Balkans, far-off in a beautiful nature described with the dry words “mountains, rivers, lakes”, a surprising protagonists has become a key component of the landscape: the sheep. We are talking about the Sharr mountains, or Šar Planina in Serbian. And it is because of these mountains that this animal is also called the Sharr sheep, always accompanied by their trusty and protective companion: the Sharr dog.
Many of the countrymen are dedicated into sheep farming, and into the production of an exquisite cheese, which is also called, of course, the Sharr cheese.
Suncica is a friendly woman who works on producing this local cheese. She is part of a family that has dedicated all its life to sheep farming and to the production of this cheese. She spends most of the day in the farm, producing cheese, while her husband, or sometimes her children, go out to the mountains with the sheep.
The cheese is only sold locally. Usually, people directly buy the cheese at Suncica’s house. Only from time to time it is brought in large quantities to Belgrade.
She welcomes us in her house, with coffee and local pastries, to tell us more about her work in the traditional and artisanal way of producing the Sharr cheese.
Where does the production of Sharr cheese begin?
Of course, the first step is to milk the sheep and filter the milk. In my lack of knowledge about this process, I wonder how much milk is needed to make a cheese.
“We need 10 kilograms of milk for one kilogram of cheese”
she replies. Taking into account that one sheep gives around one liter of milk per day, we need ten sheep to produce one cheese per day.
Meanwhile we drink the coffee, Suncica continues telling us about the process. Once all the necessary milk is collected, the milk is filtered; she puts two tablespoons of rennet per 10 kilograms of milk. She tells me that this must be let to rest for at least two and half hours.
Then she adds boiled water to the milk and stir it, put everything in a gauze and squeeze while adding water. This needs to be pressed a lot in order to squeeze out the whey. When this process is done, the now dryer mixture is shaped into a form of ball. “You could add a little more lukewarm water to that and then put it in a pan and press it with something heavy.
“Then it should rest for another 2 or 3 hours.” she adds. Finally, and after this fresh cheese is removed from the gauze, it needs to be dried for 21 days.
This is done by natural way, preferably by leaving it next to the window – as done by Suncica in her house – or some other windy place.
And what happens after that 21 days? Is it then ready to be eaten?
“Not yet”, she tells.
Suncica told us that it’s a long process, done with dedication and patience:
“After the three weeks, it must be scraped off with a knife and left in cold water for one hour. Then, for one kilogram of cheese, we boil one liter of water and add 100 grams of coarse salt, not fine, coarse salt” she emphasizes, and boil it for 10 minutes.
In the way she talks about it, I can perceive her enthusiasm and knowledge on each step of this thorough process. “When the cheese is finally cold enough, you cut the way you like and you put in a container. After, it must rest for at least 7 days before it’s ready to be eaten”.
So, only, and only after that week of resting, we are finally allowed to taste the delicious Sharr cheese.