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Tradition with Protection

Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

July 2009

Getting to know Slovenia and its gastronomic specialities means getting to know the country's tradition. Slovenian food has its own identity and, here too, the people of Slovenia like to conserve their traditions. Since we prize our national dishes and are proud of them, some of them have been given protected product designations, while others are covered by special certificates. This is a way to ensure that products of significantly better quality are available to consumers.

Protected products can have several types of designation but we will focus here on those products with a protected geographical indication. This means that the foodstuff possesses a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to its geographical origin. It is also important that at least one of the stages of production takes place in the specific geographical area after which the product is named. And if you are wondering where you can try these products: they can be found in all good food shops and department stores. Alternatively, Slovenia is full of genuine traditional restaurants or gostilne offering products of this kind. Dober tek (Bon appétit)!

Kraški pršut (Dry-cured Karst ham)

Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

The curing and salting of meat from pigs is a centuries-old tradition in Slovenia, and who has not heard of Kraški pršut? Hams dried in the natural conditions created by the burja (Bora) blowing over the Karst are the basis of a top-quality product with a protected geographical indication. Kraški pršut gets its special flavour from climatic conditions that are unique to the Karst and have a crucial effect on the characteristics of the ham. And of course from the strong winds like the burja that race down from the Alps towards the Mediterranean.

Kraški pršut is also characterised by its traditional and recognisable shape. The only "additives" in Kraški pršut are sea salt and the pure air of the Karst. The salting technique, using coarse sea salt, is also unique. Kraški pršut is usually aged for one year, although larger hams may be aged for longer.

Kraški zašink (cured neck meat)

Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

Kraški zašink is a meat product with a characteristic cylindrical shape made from the cured neck meat of the pig stuffed into a casing. Owing to the great demand for neck meat, local farmers developed a way to cure it without the bone in natural casings. Originally the casing was a pig's bladder. Later, natural casings of bovine origin and artificial casings began to be used. For the true Kraški zašink only fresh neck meat is used. When it is fully aged it has a distinctive, slightly salty flavour. Its texture is compact and smooth. And as any true gourmet knows, it melts in the mouth. Kraški zašink is an excellent addition to a cold cuts platter, while at Easter and Christmas it is also served boiled or baked in pastry.

Kraška panceta (cured pork belly)

Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

Kraška panceta is made from pork belly. It can be dried with the skin on and has a rectangular shape, and is also made in rolled form. Its characteristic quality comes from the accurate selection of pork belly and a dry-salting process using sea salt. Naturally, the drying of this meat product has to be carefully monitored. Only in this way can quality be guaranteed.

The quality of Kraška panceta can be recognised from a slice of the product. If it is sliced thinly – as it should be – the cured meat should have an intense red colour and the fat should be creamy white. The aroma must be full and the texture tender.

Kraška panceta is excellent served sliced with bread and fennel or used as an extra ingredient – a little secret – in cooked dishes. It goes very well in stews and vegetable soups. Fried, it forms a unique combination with polenta. It is a succulent addition to pâtés – or you can simply eat it for breakfast or brunch with fried eggs.

Pumpkin-seed oil from Štajerska and Prekmurje

The people of Štajerska and Prekmurje could not imagine their local cuisine without pumpkin-seed oil. In these parts of Slovenia they have been growing pumpkins since the 18th century and turning the seeds into oil. This pumpkin-seed oil is a high-quality unrefined plant oil. Producers who wish to sell their products as štajersko or prekmursko pumpkin-seed oil (bučno olje) have to make it according to the traditional process that involves pressing roasted pumpkin seeds of the finest quality, with the use of heat and with no additives. Did you know that you can even buy an exquisite dark chocolate with pumpkin-seed oil in Slovenia? This wonderful chocolate is of course hand-made.

Prleška tünka (meat from the lard barrel)

Records dating from 1487 prove that tünka has been produced in the Prlekija region for many centuries. Today the product is one of the protected special agricultural products produced in Prlekija, the region on the right bank of the river Mura. Prleška tünka consists of minced lard and the meat of the pig – leg, back, loin or neck. The name tünka derives from the process used to make the product, where the meat is immersed or packed tightly (in dialect tünkati) in minced lard. Prleška tünka is thus an effective and quality way of conserving pork in such a way as to conserve its sensory properties, rosy-pink colour and succulent flavour.

At one time tünka was only eaten on holidays and special occasions. Today it is an important part of the menu of restaurants and farm tourism establishments and is also a popular family meal. It is served with black bread, onions, peppers and of course the excellent white wines of Prlekija.

Jajca izpod Kamniških planin (Eggs from below the Kamnik mountain pastures)

These are not just ordinary eggs! Because of the high calcite content in the chicken feed, Jajca izpod Kamniških planin have a higher calcium content. The shell is smooth and uniformly thick across the entire surface of the egg. It also has a pleasant matt finish.

Thanks to carefully devised chicken feed, Jajca izpod Kamniških planin have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids and a better ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids.

Kranjska klobasa (Carniolan sausage)

Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

A sausage that is more than a sausage. Internationally, it has been one of the most recognised Slovenian products since the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph. According to legend, this sausage, which the ethnologist Dr Janez Bogataj classifies as a traditional Slovenian dish, was once responsible for sending Franz Joseph into raptures. His Imperial Majesty was on his way from Vienna to Trieste when he stopped at the Marinšek carters' inn in Naklo. All the innkeeper had to offer him were the house's ordinary sausages that he had in the larder. But the Emperor found them so delicious that he cried out: "This is no ordinary sausage, this is Carniolan sausage!" The Emperor's words still apply today and Kranjska klobasa is more than just an "ordinary" sausage since it joins the other traditional products with protected geographical indication status. It is a high-quality product and its production has to conform to special requirements – a precisely defined recipe and an approved production process.

Only the finest pork (75–80%) and solid fat (25–20%) may be used in the preparation of Kranjska klobasa. It also contains ground pepper, dehydrated garlic and nitrite salt. The mixture is placed into a casing made from pig's intestine and skewered with a wooden skewer. Even the dimensions of the skewer are precisely defined: it can be 2.5–3 millimetres thick and 3–6 centimetres long, and may be broken or cut. It is very important that the sausage is skewered through the casing and not through the filling. Kranjska klobasa is best served hot, since this is when it reaches its true gastronomic quality.

Text by Polona Prešeren, Sinfo July 2009