Chernichevo Cheese

Ark of taste
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Сирене от Черничево

In the village of Chernichevo, in the Kardzhali province in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria, a semi-hard cheese is made following a traditional production method that does not include rennet. The cheese may be made with cow or sheep’s milk, which is coagulated only with airan, a product made from kiselo mljako (Bulgarian yogurt) made from cream and water. Kiselo mljako, meaning, “sour milk,” is a fermented product containing the well-known bacterium Lactobacillus bulgaricus. This traditionally produced yogurt becomes sour several days after preparation. The more acidic the airan, the easier it is to produce the coagulation of the curd for the cheese, and the stronger the flavor.

When making the Chernichevo cheese, coagulation occurs almost instantly when airan is added, and then the fresh cheese curd is strained and washed. The curd is kneaded, salted, formed into small cakes and pressed under a stone. The finished cheese is kept refrigerated and dry until consumption. From about four liters of milk, about 200-300 grams of cheese can be produced. Production quantities, however, depends on the diet of the dairy animals. When pastures are richer, a larger quantity of higher quality cheese may be produced.

Production of rennet-less cheese is quite rare in Bulgaria. It provides an advantage, because cheesemakers to not have to acquire or store animal rennet, and airan is quite popular and widely accessible, rendering production of this cheese relatively easy and affordable. Dairy production and animal husbandry are important industries in the Rhodope Mountains, and local people were famous for their herding abilities and the possession of flocks of hundreds of animals (mainly sheep). In the times of the Ottoman Empire they were primary suppliers of meat and milk products for the Tzarigrad (the King’s city, modern day Istanbul).

Nowadays village communities little left to show for that legacy, after the wars in the beginning of 20th century and the later Communist rule which nationalized agriculture system. People of Chernichevo Village, mostly seniors, keep several animals mainly for private use, and so this particular rennet-less cheese cannot be found for commercial sale. Today, a regular supply of industrially produced cheeses has affected younger consumers’ preferences. Younger generations do not appreciate the taste of some of the local “old-fashioned” products. There is fear that this cheesemaking process and the final product will be lost if not passed on to younger producers.

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Production area:Chernichevo and nearby villages

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Milk and milk products