Together with high quality cottage cheese, Bovec cheese is the main product of the regional herdsmen. It is made out of raw sheep’s milk, which is in comparison to cow’s milk more nutritious, as it naturally contains 50 % more fat and proteins. Therefore, it is classified as full-fat hard cheese. Sometimes small quantities of cow or goat’s milk are added to it, but not more than 20 %. A cheese wheel has a round shape, and its light yellow inner part is moderately perforated with small holes. To make sales easier, each wheel today weighs 3 kilos on average, while in the past wheels weighing up to 6 kilos were produced for easier transportation to the valley.
Bovec cheese-making culture is unique to the Slovenian Alps. It is the only area in Slovenia where sheep breeding is intended exclusively for cheese-making, as full-fat-hard sheep’s cheese is produced in this region only. The excessive lambs that are sold mainly for meat in the spring time are the only exception. Bovec cheese, or Caseus de Plezio, was first mentioned as a means of payment in the first Tolmin land register that dates back to 1377. Bovec cheese as a name was first recorded on a price list in the Italian town of Udine in 1756, while the Alpine dairy farming in this area boasts a rich heritage from the 15th Century. As can be inferred from the price list, Bovec cheese had a significantly higher price than other cheese types. This traditional product has also managed to retain its special position in modern times, having been granted the trademark ‘Traditional Specialty Guaranteed’ by the European Union.
THE CHEESE-MAKING PROCESS
Production of Bovec cheese, in general does not differentiate itself from the usual hard cheese-making process. However, quality milk is a precondition. Figuratively speaking, good cheese starts being made in the stable, and a well-known unwritten rule among cheese-makers states that one should never produce cheese in a rush. It takes a great deal of knowledge, patience and determination, as well as love, to produce a good cheese.
Nowadays cheese is still produced on numerous farms in the valley and on three high alpine pastures, and is mostly being sold on the spot. It represents the importance of continuity, as well as the transfer of the skill of cheese-making over generations. So when we taste Bovec sheep’s cheese, we do not only taste its full and gently spicy flavour, but also encounter a more than 500-year old tradition of cheese-making in this region.
Work under the ARTISTIC project resulted in launching the pilot action „Cheese making”, which is significant for the region. The Association of small cattle of Upper Soča Valley has been working hard on a setting up a model, to develop cheese making as an important economic and touristic story based on connecting cheese makers under one roof - “common cheese making factory”. The Fundamental idea and benefit of this action is to unload the farmers of some work. This way they can focus on their primary activity which is small cattle breeding and high quality milk production. This pilot action will enable also connecting tourism providers and tourist farms.