Friday, June 29, 2018

Djath Vermoshi Albanian Cheese Vermosh style June 29th June 2018

With cold and windy weather keeping me indoors last weekend, I decided to try out the recipe for cheese I had been given at our guesthouse in northern Albania. The recipe, handwritten on the back of our bill, was lacking in finer details but I thought I would see what I ended up with.
First instruction was to warm the milk, no temperature given, so I guessed somewhere between 85 and 90 degrees F like Feta might be a good starting point. "Add the bacteria", I translated into adding mesophilic culture so I opted for Flora Danica. There was no mention of rennet but i decided to add a few drops at the same time as the cheese we had tasted had to be pressed and so would need a firm curd. Leave at room temperature for 2 days.
"Pour off the water". I figured I needed to cut the curd roughly and then drain through cheese cloth for a couple of hours.
"Put the cheese under a stone for 2 days" How heavy would a Vermosh stone weigh? Maybe 2.5kg per  mould? Let's try that.
The curd was quite soft so needed to go into a mould for pressing. A chopping board on top of the moulds held the weights for the next 2 days.
Next the cheese was to go in salt water. My recipe said the water needed to be salty enough for a raw egg to float. This is about 18% or more. This is the way to store the cheese , like Feta. It makes it quite salty so can be washed prior to serving.
It ended up as quite a crumbly cheese, much like Feta but a lot less time consuming to make. It tasted quite different to the Albanian version but their Jersey milk tasted very different to our Friesian grass fed milk so perhaps that accounts for it. I shall certainly be making it again!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Food Adventures in Montenegro Part 2, 25th June 2018

Back into Montenegro after our little trip into Albania and the adventure continued. We were still savoring the produce of our Lake Skadar Airbnb as we had bought a bottle of their home made elderflower syrup, a perfect refreshment when mixed with voda sa gasom (mineral water). After overnighting in the Prokletije Mountains and the beautiful valley of Grbaja, where I had real Turkish style coffee

we headed to Kolašin, the nearest town to our next National Park, Biogradska Gora. And what a welcome we had at our apartment on the edge of town. Our host Slobodan arrived with  homemade cheese, obligatory rakija shots and a bottle of Vranac the local Montengrin red wine along with his friend Zelkjo as his translator.

Next morning before we set off to the national park for the day, Slobodan arrived with some cake to take. There was lots of walking to do, so we appreciated the supplement to our standard lunch of bread, cheese and salami.

The following morning, to celebrate the birthday of both Max and Zelkjo, Slobodan arrived with more cake and rakija to send us on our way.
One more national park to visit near the border with Bosnia. After following the Tara Canyon for about 60km, snacking on fresh strawberries bought from a viewpoint stall and melting left over ice cream

, we arrived at Durmitor National Park, ski resort in winter and popular tourist destination in summer. We finally got to buy some southern Balkans staple,  burek,  a spinach and cheese variety as well as a sweet cherry one. Eaten too fast for a photo from our lunch spot with this view.

Last night in Montenegro was an excuse for a break from self catering. We stayed in the old hydroelectric village of Pluzine on the lake.

Nearby, on a drizzly evening, Restoran Jezero was open for business although we appeared to be the only diners. We had to try the famous Njeguski pršut..a dry cured ham.

I followed this with some trout from the lake (jezero) while Max had the unappetizing sounding but tasty boiled lamb. Perhaps we didn't really need the side dish of salad with home made kajmak cream/cheese on top. Certainly no room for dessert after that lot!

And so all that remained was the drive to the border. Wow what a drive though. 56 tunnels hacked through the rock as we passed the long arms of the lake, over a huge dam wall then following the Piva canyon to the single lane bridge border crossing.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Afternoons in Albania June 21 2018

Two afternoons in fact. When the shortest route from Skadar Lake in Montenegro  to Prokletije Mountains Montenegro is via Albania and the car hire agreement says you can, what do you do? Go via Albania of course. And what a surprise it was. After spending several hours driving on a two way but one lane road on the cliff edges of Skadar,
 hurriedly pulling close to rock faces when we spied trucks coming our way, it was amazing to find a road in northern Albania with parking pull-offs,double height guard rails, road shoulders and plenty of room for two way traffic and some amazingly engineered hairpin bends.

In a couple of hours, we had crossed the border near the Adriatic coast, negotiated the chaotic city centre of Shkoder, stayed parallel to the border and ended up 15km from another border crossing back to Montenegro. We stayed two nights in Vermosh in the Kelmend valley and surrounded by the Accursed Mountains.  The guesthouse was part of the Peraj family home on a small farm. Mira milks 3 jersey cows every day, makes her own yoghurt and cheese, grows fruit and vegetable in the short summer and butchers her own meat. Daughter, Florida, is still trying to finish her education part time, but has great plans to capitalise on the tourism potential of the valley. It was a pretty stunning place for a 5 hour hike and plenty more longer ones if we had had the time.

The guesthouse served breakfast and evening meals on request. Breakfast of course consisted of homemade bread, cheese, yoghurt, local honey, fresh milk as well as some freshly made pastries and coffee.
The evening meals were also mostly home produce: prosciutto made in the months of snow on the ground, home butchered lamb, fresh cheese, and bread which we watched cooking in the slow combustion stove in their not quite finished commercial kitchen building. On the first evening Florida experimented with a delicious dessert of pastry jam and walnuts called Pasta Flora that a previous guest had told her about.

Florida and I swapped cheese recipes to try one day soon. Stay tuned! 
 It was a great two days where we really felt like we got to experience a bit of Albanian family life. I love the sort of travel where you do something on a whim and have the most unexpected experiences!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Food Adventures in Montenegro Part 1 Sunday 10th June 2018

We crossed the border from Bosnia into a land of mountains. Montenegro seems to be made up of mountains and canyons everywhere except around the capital Podgorica. We first travelled to the spectacular coastline of the Bay of Kotor on a big new highway, winding our way down to the narrow coastal strip.
We stayed in an apartment, 30 minutes walk from the old town of Kotor, trying to avoid the cruise boat tourists who arrive in their hundreds every day even in the off season. Dinner in the old town on our first night was a bit disappointing mostly due to the bored waiter and the inflated prices. 

So for our second night we followed the suggestion of our apartment host Milos, and walked 5 minutes in the other direction to Konoba Portun. And what a good decision it was. We decided to splash out and have the seafood platter....prawns, stuffed squid, fried squid, black risotto and three types of fish. It was delicious. So delicious I forgot to take a photo of the risotto but it came in a black pot so it probably wouldn't have shown up anyway.
We then spent a couple of nights out in the countryside of the Lustica Peninsula, too far from restaurants so self catering using some of the wild sage growing everywhere to flavour chicken and fish we had bought.
Lake Skadar was our next stop and I had booked an Airbnb several kilometres out of the town of Virpazar which sounded promising. It was called an Etno house, home to a vineyard where they made wines, several flavours of rakija and fruit syrups. They also provided meals. We followed the very narrow road up into the hills where a natural spring had been tapped to water the garden of George and Mira. As soon as we arrived we were escorted into their cellar door area and given tastings of their red wine, pomegranate (slightly fizzy) wine, walnut flavoured rakija, coffee and some the natural spring water. We followed George for a tour of his small vineyard and Mira took us to a church which had slid 200m down the hillside and rotated 90 degrees after an earthquake a few hundred years ago and still stood where it had come to rest on a slight lean. Mira then whipped up the best meal we had in Montenegro....crispy trout, marinated carp,salad, home made cheese, fresh bread.

 Breakfast next morning was pretty good too. Prosciutto,eggs,cheese,tomato eggplant,zucchini, all locally produced.This gave us lots of energy to set off exploring for the day.
More narrow roads with great views and a hike following a stream past a small hydroelectric plant.

We decided to try Mira's cooking again that night. This time even though we had tried to indicate that we wanted smaller portions, we were still served a huge but extremely bony fish with a delicious paella style rice.
Next morning it seemed Mira couldn't bear the thought of us self catering our breakfast and brought us some jam filled pancakes as well as some spinach egg slice which we saved for our Albania.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Food Adventures in Bosnia Herzegovina June 7th 2018

Last month, Max and I spent three weeks driving around the Balkans, beginning and ending in Sarajevo. The scenery was fantastic but our experience with locals and local food was just as good. We spent 4 nights in Bosnia before heading over the border to Montenegro. After our AirBnb hosts welcomed us with Bosnian coffe and biscuits and broken conversation in German , our first meal in Sarajevo was in Baščaršija, the Old Town dating back to the Ottoman Empire. Sheltering from an afternoon downpour under a market umbrella, we tried some local fare, sitna cevapi (goulash) and potato pie. A very welcome meal after our long haul flight.

The next day's lunch of grilled vegetables and bread and dips was less successful in a smoky bar escaping another afternoon downpour so didn't rate a photo shoot.
We then travelled down the spectacular Neretva river to Mostar, home to the 16 th century stone bridge, commissioned by Suleyman the Magnificent, was destroyed by bombing In 1993 in the Croat-Bosnian conflict. The bridge was rebuilt by UNESCO in 2004 using original stones recovered from the river and now it and the beautiful Old Town surrounding it attract tourists from around the world. The Neretva River 20m below is the most stunning jade green and we saw a few fisherman on the banks trying their luck.
There is a real Turkish feel to the Old Town with several mosques in the area so we dined at Sadrvan , a Turkish style restaurant complete with waitstaff in costume. Delicious soup followed by Mostarian sarma ( dolma) and a kebab stew.

Our apartment hosts next morning surprised us with a free breakfast of freshly made fried pastries and kajmak,a thick semi soured cream to spread on them along with a selection of teas.

The next night after a road trip to the beautiful Kravice waterfall and the river at Blacaj,we were back in the Old Town for dinner.

This time I decided that I must try the Bosnian staple of cevapcici, hand rolled spicy sausages with pita bread while Max had risotto.

Dessert of fresh strawberries and cherries bought from our local fruit stall, waited for us back in the apartment. Next stop Montenegro.