An Interview with a Master Affineur
AN INTERVIEW WITH MASTER AFFINEUR IVANKA JUČEVIĆ OF SIRANA GLIGORA
If you Google Paški sir, you’ll find endless reviews and descriptions about why the cheese carries its particular taste. Details about the sheep will emerge as well as the bura, local wild vegetation, and tradition of production on the Island of Pag.
You’ll also read about traditional farming and the special breed of sheep used for the milk. You’ll as well quickly find there are several larger producers on the island as well as many small independence domestic cheese makers, who all focus on producing this incredible cheese Paski sir.
So why does Sirana Gligora Paški sir stand out?
Well it could be for the amount of prestigious international awards won (currently 45) since 2010, and consistent high quality year on year. After all, the milk is the same and production is similar between the producers, but where Gligora differs is in the attention to detail, high standard of quality in the raw materials and perhaps most importantly, in the skill of the staff that help produce and mature Croatia’s finest cheese.
So here we talk to Ivanka Jučević who is Gligora’s master affineur, responsible for maturing more than 400 tonnes of cheese each year and who possesses an incredible eye for detail.
How many years have you been working for Sirana Gligora?
I.J. – Almost 6 years now. I started working for Gligora when we were based in the old small dairy, things were much different then. I’d say harder in some ways because the cheese was stored in different buildings so it involved a lot of running to-and-fro for me. The new dairy is much better, all the cheese is in one huge room with very sensitive climate control, even though there may be 160 tonnes cheese inside at any one time.
What did you know about cheese before you worked for Gligora?
I.J. – I was born in town Pag and my Grandma used to make Paški sir from raw milk. It was all very small, she’d cook the milk over a file and press it with stones. I used to love watching her turn the cheese and coat it in ash to protect it while it was aging in a small konobica (pantry).
I married my husband 30 years ago and moved to a small village called Diniška on the Island of Pag where all the family are actively involved in making Paški sir. My husband milks the sheep (we have around 30) and his mother still makes the cheese at home. I’ve always helped but it’s never been my responsibility, my mother-in-law is very protective of her cheese.
So what does it mean to be an affineur, what do you actually do?
I.J. – Basically I watch the cheese. There isn’t a wheel in this room at any time that I don’t know about and I know exactly how old each one is, it’s very interesting for me. I’m watching how the cheese develops and looking for any imperfections that could be a problem. I’m then responsible for making sure each wheel has the best care, making sure it is washed and oiled at the right time and watching when it will be ready for sale.
Gligora won two huge Gold medals recently for Sir iz mošta and siz iz maslinove komine. What was your involvement in these cheeses?
I.J. - These cheeses are very exciting. First we tried to age cheese in pressed wine grapes (iz mošta) and I talked closely with Mr Gligora about the best way to achieve this, for how long it should be left inside and then the methods of maturing thereafter. The cheese was excellent in the first year of production (2012) but we learned more and refined the process the 2nd time around. When it won Gold and best in class in America it was probably the proudest moment of my career.
Sir iz maslinove komine is very different because of the chemical make-up of the olives and how it reacted with the cheese, so this presented a new challenge. We left the cheese in the komine for a much shorter period, I was watching it every day and even listening to the fermentation, but when I first tasted it I knew I had another gold medal winner in my hands.
How do you know when a cheese is ready for sale?
I.J. - I look at many things. The colour, hardness and density, the whole outside structure. Then I’ll examine the texture inside, the aroma, and finally taste. How do I know when it is actually ready? Well we have very high standards at Gligora so the cheese must hit high marks all around, but its my secret to know what that is
Have you any news about future products to share with us?
I.J. - Oh yes, we have some really interesting new products coming through. We have some smoked cow milk cheese, cheese with lavender, a mixed cheese from cow, goat and sheep milk which really has excellent depth and complexity. The most exciting for me though is ‘Sir od luga’ (luga is an old local word for ask). I’m aging some cow milk cheese in ash just like my Grandmother used to do it, I’m really looking forward to how that one turns out.
What is your favorite Gligora cheese?
I.J. - No hesitation, Paški sir. It is such an interesting cheese with great character, different every time but for me it’s getting better and better every year. 2014 Paški sir is fantastic, one of the best in my opinion but unfortunately already stocks are running low.
What is your favorite cheese other than Gligora cheese.
I.J. - I really do like to taste other cheese from France, Italy and all around the world but I’m always comparing them to Paški sir. I guess maybe I have professional deformation but I’ve not found anything yet that comes even close.
Finally, who’s your favorite Croatian celebrity or singer?
I.J. - Ah Klapa Intrade, the Paški sir of music Here, enjoy!
Thank you Ivanka, great job!
Gligora’s new cheeses will soon be released for sale through Gligora cheese shops in Croatia and also though Gligora Cheese & Wine Online – soon you can see for yourself if Ivanka’s Sir od luga has made the mark!