As you drive along the winding roads on the Island of Pag it’s unlikely that you’ll see many of the 55,000 or so indigenous sheep that live here as they are as equally apt at hiding from the midday sun as they are at hiding from the winter Bura, the powerful winter wind that brings sea salt dust to the pastures from the Adriatic Sea.
With more than 3 sheep to every human living on the island, they have flourished under the expert husbandry of the local shepherds who for centuries have raised them to make a special cheese from their milk. Paški Sir, or Island of Pag Cheese as it roughly translates.
Sirana Gligora in the village of Kolan, the heartland of good husbandry and Paški Sir production, have been making award-winning Paški Sir since 1995. The director Mr Ivan Gligora, who is the most respected diary technologist in all of Croatia, has been able to infuse his families artisan cheese making skills along with modern dairy science and technology to produce a consistently high-class sheep’s milk cheese which has won many awards both at a national and international level. With the new dairy which opened in January 2010 with European funding from SAPARD, Sirana Gligora now have one of the most technologically advanced dairies in all of Europe.
For the past 3 years the International Taste and Quality Institute in Brussels have awarded Sirana Gligora Paški Sir with the prestigious 3 Star Superior Taste Award. The following words were taken from what the top international Chefs and Sommeliers from the prestigious culinary organisations who were selected to judge at the iTQi said about Paški Sir:
Paški Sir is a wonderfully tasteful sheep milk cheese that brings full and complex flavor to the palate and melts nicely in the
mouth. Authentic and unique, Paški Sir is a pure delight and displays quality in the making, leaving a long and pleasant aftertaste to savor. A yellowish creamy color with farmhouse aromas, Paški Sir has well balanced texture, taste, aromas and finish and is delightfully tasty.
With some of the best known cheeses around the world coming from sheep milk, Manchego from La Mancha in Spain, Roquefort from France and Italian Peccorino, it’s a wonder why cheese from the milk of sheep is so underrepresented compared to cow and goat milk. But with Sirana Gligora Paški Sir, now ready for export around the world, this distinct minority has just gained a new high class member.
One of the reasons why there isn’t a higher representation of sheep milk cheese is milk production. Milk yield from one sheep is much less than that of a goat or cow, and in addition sheep are also seasonal breeders which makes it difficult for farmers to breed sheep for all year round milk production. The results of which make farmers chose the easier option of breeding cows of goats for dairy.
So why do the shepherds and farmers of Pag bother with the sheep? The answer is easy, Paški Sir is the ultimate reward and those who have visited the island will be able to testify.
Not so many years ago, there was also an emerging wine production on the Island of Pag. Paška Žuta is a dry white wine with tastes of honeycomb and lime which is still made in small quantities today. The owners of the vineyards however, quickly realised that the land would be better used to raise sheep and thus the wine producing era of Pag came to a quick end.
As you can see things work a bit differently on the Island of Pag where there are no cows and you’ll be hard pressed to find a goat too. Sheep breeding has developed here for over 1500 years and now the sheep have evolved to become their own special breed, Paska Ovca. The rich heritage of cheese making on the island owes a lot to the artisan skills of husbandry where the Paška Ovca milk has evolved along with the animal.
On the rocky pastures where vegetation struggles to gain a foothold and is bombarded by the winter wind, the sheep are small in stature with specially adapted hoofs which make them apt at traversing the rocky land and foraging for the salted fresh wild herbs. It’s exactly these conditions why the milk from these sheep have an unusually high butterfat and protein level which are the reasons for Paški Sir’s distinction.
“Ewes milk cheeses are a distillation of what good cheese can be,” says Sasha Davies, former cheese monger and author of the Web site ‘Cheese by Hand’ (www.cheesebyhand.com). “Ewes milk has an amazing range.” This is because the milk is higher in both butterfat and protein than cow or goat’s milk, meaning it is rich in components that are essential to good cheese, a quality that translates into a distinctive depth and complexity you simply won’t find in other cheeses.
For more information about Sirana Gligora Paški Sir please visit www.gligora.com
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