Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Sheepbreeders, part 2
In the summer, the sheep are moved to higher pastures in the mountains. The land is owned by the government and each farmer rents and is assigned to a pasture according to the size of his flock. I always thought that the pastures were close by, but today I found out that some are very far indeed. Some farmers in Tetovo, which is in the NW corner of Macedonia, take theirs to pastures in Shtip, in the eastern central region, farmers from Gostivar to Veles, in the center, and farmers from Debar, which is on the border with Albania, to Bitola, south on the border with Greece. These locations are hundreds of miles apart, and traditionally, farmers drove the sheep over the mountains to these distant pastures. The trip from Tetovo to Shtip took 21 days, with the farmers carrying their tents and food on horses and their dogs helping to drive the sheep. The drives started in middle to late May, depending on when the snow cleared from the higher mountains, and were on traditional paths across the country. Just recently, farmers from Tetovo and Gostivar started using the train to transport the sheep, but the farmers from Debar, having no access to trains, still drive their sheep in the time-honored fashion. Luli's eyes light up when he talks about it - he'd love to go on a drive with a filmmaker and do a documentary about this old way of life which soon will die, but the timing is bad for him and he's never been able to go.
All along the trail, and during their time in the high pastures, the ewes need to be milked twice a day. There are milking sheds in the pastures, but no refrigeration, no milk pick-up, nothing. So what do they do? They make cheese, and at the end of their stay arrange for transport to pick up all of the summer cheese. The cheese is very salty and high in acid, which is what preserves it. Disease control is not the best here and some animals may have brucellosis and/or TB, and there is no pasteurization. Non-pasteurized milk makes the best tasting cheese, but those diseases can be spread through raw milk. However, after three months of being cured, the cheese is safe to eat - no bacteria can survive. Would it pass FDA standards in the States? That is a vigorous debate that's going on now - FDA requires pasteurization, but many boutique cheesemakers are fighting that so they can make higher quality, better tasting cheeses.
Posted by Candice Wiggum at 4:46 AM