Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cheese: Paski Sir

Paski sir, Croatian for "cheese from the island of Pag," is just that, a sheep milk cheese from that Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea.
Pag is a long thin island that looks more like a peninsula, until you look closely and see that it has some small separation from the mainland which is easily connected by a road, just north of Zadar. The island environment is what makes Paski sir distinctive. The Velebit mountain range is just east of Pag island on the mainland. The mountains cause the Pag Bora, a strong, cool, dry east/west wind, which scatters a dry salt dust all over the island. As the salt dust falls on the moist vegetation, it sticks, and only the resilient and aromatic plant species can survive, such as Pag Sage. It is feeding on the salty grass and aromatic vegetation, that gives the Pag sheep milk, and thus its cheese, part of its distinctive taste. There are about 40,000 Pag sheep on the island, five times more than the 8,000 humans, and they are smaller and produce less milk than a normal sheep, at most about one-half liter a day. Only about 80 tons of the cheese is produced each year. Paski sir is aged variously and of course the aging deepens the taste of the cheese. I've seen references to Paski sir aged from 6 months to 18 months. I've had Paski sir twice, once obtained from the Cheese Cave in Claremont and once from DTLA Cheese in the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles. You can see from the pictures that one of the cheeses was aged substantially longer: It is much more brown around the edges near the rind and has whitish crystals in the body of it. It is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die (p. 319). 
Paski Sir
This Paski Sir is aged longer than the one above. Darker edges near the rind and white crystals in the body.
Paski sir is traditionally served chunked and crumbled with olive oil. I also read suggestions to serve it with prsut (Croatian prosciutto), salted anchovies or black olives, so I decided to try some in that way. 
Paski Sir in olive oil, in anchovies packed in olive oil and plain. 

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