The quiet village of Tcherni Vit is huddled among the peaks of the Balkan mountains, known in Bulgaria as the Stara Planina mountains. The Tcherni Vit (black winding) river flows through the village, cutting it in half. The air, heavy with humidity, provides the perfect conditions for aging a unique blue cheese (known to the locals as zeleno sirene or green cheese). It is made only in the village of Tcherni Vit and the surrounding communities in very small quantities.
The native breed of sheep is known as Teteven. The animals are small (60-70 cm in height). They have long wool of various colors, long tails that almost reach the ground and short ears. Each sheep produces about 60 liters of milk per season.
The sheep are taken up to the mountain pastures to graze until the end of September or early October. From May to July they are milked by hand three times a day, after that twice a day. The cheese-making process begins immediately after each milking. Sometimes goat and sheep milk is mixed. Rennet is added and the milk is left to curdle for two hours. The curd is then cut into pieces with a knife and placed in a cloth-lined wooden box. The cloth is pulled over the cheese and a wooden lid is placed on top of the box. Two large stones are placed on top to add pressure. The cheese is left for two to four hours, the whey dripping into a bucket below. The cheese is then cut into pieces, salted with course grain salt and stacked in layers in a barrel made from the wood of a lime tree. The cheese can be left in the brine for up to two years. The barrels are left in the mountains until the end of the grazing season, then brought down to the village in October and stored in cellars. The molds do not begin to form until the barrel is opened. Once exposed to the moist air the molds form spontaneously, quickly covering the exterior. If there are holes in the covering, the molds will also penetrate the inside of the cheeses, resulting in one of the very few cheeses in the world with a natural blue marbling.
Understanding the importance of preserving this cheese and cheese-making tradition, the young mayor of Tcherni Vit has started making the cheese, and is looking to find others to join him. In addition, work has been done to renovate a space that now serves as the production workshop and maturation cellar.
Together with the old cheese maker, all the steps of the production process will be documented and a production protocol will be written defining the care and feeding of the sheep, the production and aging processes for the cheese, vouching for the final product’s traceability and high quality. Tcherni Vit Green Cheese will then be promoted in Bulgaria as well as on the international market.
Tcherni Vit, Teteven municipality, Lovech district, Balkan range
Mayor of Tcherni Vit and producer
tel. +359 889521027