Cheese and yogurt galore: 6 delectable Bulgarian dairy products

Cheese and yogurt galore: 6 delectable Bulgarian dairy products

Yogurt, cheese and milk are an integral part of Bulgarian cuisine – and in a sense, Bulgaria is the original homeland of yogurt! Dairy products are part of almost every meal in the country and a Bulgarian would find it hard to imagine classic local dishes like banitsa, musaka, shopska salad or tarator without cheese or yogurt.

Cow milk is the most popular source of dairy products in Bulgaria, though sheep’s milk products are well-appreciated and quite ubiquitous too. Perhaps not as commonly consumed, goat cheeses are also traditional and considered a bit of a specialty because of their tart flavour. Native buffalo dairy products are increasingly fashionable too – buffalo yogurt from the Balkan Mountains is a real treat, especially served as a dessert with fresh blueberries!

From the legendary Bulgarian yogurt (big in Japan and China!) to the secrets of the gourmet green cheese of Cherni Vit (that the Moon is made of), kashkaval tourist presents 6 delectable Bulgarian dairy products.

1. Omnipresent Balkan crumbliness: sirene (white brined cheese) 🐄

Omnipresent Balkan crumbliness: sirene (white brined cheese)
Omnipresent Balkan crumbliness: sirene (white brined cheese)

In Bulgaria, white brined cheese (or sirene) is so universally beloved that it has come to own the word for cheese itself. Unless you specify something else, any Bulgarian would assume you’re referring to this classic Balkan cheese when you say “sirene”.

Sirene can be made of cow, sheep’s, goat’s or buffalo milk, or a mix thereof. What sets it apart from other cheeses is the maturing in a brine solution, which is responsible for its white colour and its trademark saltiness. Bulgarian white brined cheese shares many similarities with its Greek cousin feta and other regional cheeses like the Turkish beyaz peynir and Romanian telemea. Compared to feta, sirene (сирене) is somewhat softer and crumblier. A variant of sirene is Dunavia, which is even softer, with less fat content and a milder flavor.

Sirene is often enjoyed as a table cheese (sprinkled with some red pepper) and it’s a vital ingredient in characteristic Bulgarian dishes like shopska salad, banitsa with cheese, French fries with cheese, sirene po shopski (Shop-style sirene) and yaytsa po panagyurski (Panagyurishte-style eggs).

2. Fermented longevity food: Bulgarian yogurt 🔬

Fermented longevity food: Bulgarian yogurt
Fermented longevity food: Bulgarian yogurt

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus. Sounds fancy, right? We owe the very existence of yogurt to these benevolent bacteria, naturally found in Bulgaria and discovered by Bulgarian doctor Stamen Grigorov in 1905. If you’re feeling geeky, you could learn more about it in the world’s only Yogurt Museum in Grigorov’s home village of Studen Izvor. 🤓

Bulgaria is regarded as the “birthplace of yogurt”, and as you can imagine, this fermented milk product is a huge part of the local culinary tradition. Known as kiselo mlyako (кисело мляко, „sour milk“), yogurt is a yummy Bulgarian breakfast staple, and it’s also used in appetizers, desserts, beverages and even soups (think tarator).

The research of Nobel Prize winner Élie Metchnikoff attributed the longevity of Bulgarian villagers to their regular consumption of yogurt, turning this dairy product into an international health fad. Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt has been a hit in Japan since 1973, spreading the fame of Bulgarian yogurt all over East Asia. And in China, the yogurt drink Momchilovtsi draws inspiration from the Rhodope village of the same name. Seeing a Rhodope-branded product in faraway China would be surreal to any Bulgarian, but it’s a testament to Bulgarian yogurt’s well-deserved worldwide popularity. 😏

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