I don’t know about you, but I love cheese. Not that hideous rubbery stuff that comes pre-sliced, individually wrapped in plastic, or even worse, from a can. I’m talking about the real-deal cheese made from milk.
We have mentioned Paški sir, the sheep milk cheese made on Pag Island near Zadar on numerous occasions here on Chasing the Donkey. The reason being; it’s EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD! Paški Sir is so good in fact that Sirana Gligora, a family-owned dairy that produces Paški sir, recently won a gold medal at the World Championship Cheese Contest for their Paški Sir in the hard sheep milk cheese category. They also happen to be the most awarded cheesemakers from Pag.
- Paški: From Pag Island
- Sir: Cheese
What Makes Paški Sir So Good?
“What makes Paški Sir so good?” I hear you ask. It’s a few things. One of them is the Bura, a strong northerly wind that has been battering the Pag Island since the beginning of time. There is very little vegetation on the island due to the strong winds and the salt that is sprayed all over the island by the Bura. This means that only limited vegetation survives, which happens to be wild aromatic herbs, shrubs, and grasses. All of which are salted naturally by the Bura wind.
The 35,000 sheep on Pag Island graze on said herbs (like sage), which produces unique tasting milk. Every 7-10 days, the sheep are rotated into a new pasture. It’s the unique milk that goes into the magnificent tangy Paški Sir.
Another reason is the sheep are outside, left in their natural surroundings. Not stuck in small cages, barns, or otherwise. Each sheep is hand milked and is treated with love.
I was elated when I heard the news from Mrs. CtD that we’d been invited by Gilgora Sirana not only to visit their cheese-making factory in Pag but also to see the milking process in action.
Rise And Shine, It’s Time To Milk The Sheep On Pag Island
The day had arrived; we were off to meet the sheep. We get up at the crack of dawn and head to Kolan, a village in Pag, to kick off our tour at one of Gilgora’s milk suppliers.
We are introduced to Majar, a local shepherd who has been supplying milk from his own sheep to Gilgora daily for many years. He is so local, in fact, that his sheep are in a field that is only a stone’s throw from the cheese factory. Once we are in his field, he begins to round up the sheep very quickly and gets down to business. Swaying his arms and cooing (mala), the sheep gather in the corner, bleating.
Majar is kind and friendly and shares stories of his family history on Pag. Majar also tells me his flock produce around one liter of milk per sheep each day. Half in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.
Production of milk lasts for no more than half the year, which means Majar is milking his flock twice daily, all by hand.
Being the type of person that likes to try almost everything, I accepted Majar’s offer to take the opportunity to milk a sheep.
With his assistance, I get to work……..hmmmmm, not nearly as easy as Majar has made it look. After some coaching and a change in technique….SUCCESS! We had milk.
The Pag Island Cheese Factory
After the labor-intensive milking, we head over to the factory to see what happens with the milk. Our guide walks us through the factory’s cheese-making process, which is/quite impressive, and so much more high-tech than I anticipated.
Entering the underground cheese maturing room was my favorite part of the tour—before us stood thousands of wheels of cheese, neatly stacked maturing.
There were 200 tonnes of cheese at different stages of maturation in the room. Walls of cheese surrounded us!
Busy at work, we saw cheese makers turning over the luscious slabs of cheese, one by one.
They are required to do this every day! One part of the cheese maturation room was dedicated to new cheese’s which were being trialed. I’m sworn to secrecy, but perhaps you can guess by the color?
Cheese Tasting On Pag Island
After milking and getting educated on the cheese-making process, it’s time to get down to the real reason I was interested in waking up at the crack of dawn—cheese tasting. Gligora has built an excellent cheese tasting room where you can sample all of their goods paired with local wines. Gilgora makes over 23 varieties of cheeses, but the real star is, of course, the Paški Sir.
A cheese degustation was prepared for us with some lovely wine to cleanse the palate between each tasting. We tasted:
- Paška Skuta – Fresh cheese similar to ricotta, a high albumin cheese made from the whey of Paski Sir and Zigljen.
- Trapist – A semi-hard cow’s milk cheese.
- Figurica – A hard cheese from a delicate fusion of cow and sheep milk
- Dinarski – Produced exclusively from cow milk from the Dinaric Alps in southern Croatia, with added goat milk from the Zadar hinterland for added complexity
- Paski Sir – Hard sheep’s milk cheese produced exclusively from milk for the sheep on the island of Pag
- Paski Sir iz maslinove komine – This cheese recently won the best hard sheep’s milk cheese at the 2014 world cheese championship. Its Paski cheese has been submerged in an olive oil extract.
Our Favourite Gligora Cheese
Paški Sir (and an aged Paški sir) – To me, this is the best. It’s unique, and Gligora has an aged version that is more pungent and sharp.
Take The Gligora Cheese Making & Tasting Tour Yourself
Available all year round to anyone, the Gligora cheese making & tasting tours are just 8 euro and include a walk through the factory, with an English guide explaining the process as well as a cheese tasting.
The cheese tasting tour starts with a welcome and introduction to the Paški sir and a short talk on the heritage and history of cheese making on Pag. Then, after donning your protective hat, jacket, and shoes, you’ll head into the production and maturing room, learning how the award-winning cheese is made.
Owned and run by Ivan Gligora and his family, the cheese tour is a great way to see the local traditional way of making cheese being kept alive – even if it’s using modern technology.
Once you’ve seen the site and sampled the range, you can make a beeline to the cheese shop onsite and take home your favorites. You can make bookings anytime.
Facts About Gligora On Pag Island
- The Gligora family have been making traditional Croatian cheese and in particular Paški Sir in Kolan since 1918
- Gligora Dairy employs 27 people and produces more than 50 tones of Paški Sir in a year and over 150 tons of other cheese products.
- Gligora buys milk from over 200 of the island’s shepherds.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever been on a dairy tour or tasted a Paški Sir?
PS: We were provided the tour free of charge. All of the thoughts and opinions are given honestly and without bias.