Zagorje is a fairytale country, blessed with lush greenery, a site where even the Neanderthal people chose to live, using hunting and gathering food in the forest to survive. In fact, this might not have been so difficult, given the amazing benefits of nature. The eternal symbiosis with nature thus became a basis for traditional Zagorje cuisine, affecting and reflecting a particular and often jolly way of life.
The food here is hearty. No wonder for that, because the terrain is hilly and demanding to live in. Four seasons are evenly recognisable, and food is season-based, fresh, and basically easy to prepare. Essentially peasant food relies on fruits of the nature, especially on rich autumn products, preserved throughout the winter months. Fruits and mushrooms were dried.
Pork and lard had a very important role in the kitchen, and pig slaughtering (kolinje) was one of the most important days of the year, followed by a famous festivity. Pork was dried and used in various dishes such as bean and turnip stew and sauerkraut. Ham was consumed for the first time after slaughter only at Easter time. The rest of port was usually baked and preserved by pouring lard over the meat in a special wooden bowl called banjica.
The essence of many meals was to spare as much time as possible – time which was useful for working in the fields. Sausages are also very present in Zagorje table. Pig liver sausages (jetrenice) were documented in 17th century by prior Ivan Belostenec, who gave a classic recipe for it. Good jetrenice had to first be cooked and then chopped into tiny pieces. Grated cheese, beaten eggs, salt, pepper, cumin and ginger were then added to the meat, and the mixture was stuffed in pork intestines, serving as casings, and was then brought to a boil in water.
Other well-loved sausages include blood sausages (krvavice), garlic sausages (češnjovke) and pressed sausages (tlačenice). No kolinje could be done without fried pork rinds (čvarci), and making of lard. In this way, people could make most of pig for whole year.
The dishes of old are still very much present today. If you visit some Zagorje homestead or agritourism, in old Zagorje house (hiža), you will experience everyday peasant menu such as it was in the past. It starts with a simple hearty breakfast, consisting of polenta (žganci), served with milk, barley coffee, butter, fried pork rinds, fried onions, roux soup, and eggs. Fresh cheese and sour cream are often present.
Most common dish for lunch was and still might be various stews, often bean stew with turnips, barley grits and sauerkraut. Zagorje is famous for its soups. In the past, they were cooked in special natural material pots called medenice. Every thing possible might go in this soup – grains, squash, leeks, kale, vinegar, potatoes, butter, milk, plums, sour cream, wine, etc. Today guests’ favourite is Zagorje mushroom soup, indeed delicious in autumn.
Dinner was usually light, either leftovers from lunch, or cheese, cornmeal or boiled whey with milk. Dinner feasts were common after very laborious work day in the fields or in the vineyards. These feasts were legendary, often described in Croatian literature. Next to pork, which is everyday meat, Zagorje is famous for the turkey, chicken, and goose dishes, with mlinci (pasta tatters) as side dish. Beef and roast pork are also common, as well as furguš (sauerkraut with smoked meat), potato and beet salads, etc.
Roast turkey with mlinci is based on turkey which came from Americas via Italy in the 16th century. Through time it became so domesticated to Zagorje, that it contains an exceptionally tasty poultry meat. This delicacy is now famous in all Croatia, and consequently Zagorje turkey (puran) is now protected against low-quality meat.
Desserts in Zagorje are legendary and lavish. Most common is gibanica – cheese pastry pie. It comes in two varieties: sweet and salty. Next to it are orahnjača (walnat cake) and makovnjača (poppy seed cake), possibly signature desserts of this region. No festival can go without them.
Zagorje is famous wine region, and in recent years a project to revitalise authentic types of grape vines in Zagorje started. The traditional Krapine wine grape variety Belina (said to be the predecessor of the world-famous Chardonnay), the Sokol wine grape (used to produce wine for bishops 300 years ago in Zagreb) along with about twenty varieties of wines dating back over 150 years will once again live in Zagorje’s green hills.
Turkey with Mlinci
Rub salt all over the cleaned turkey inside and out and leave it to sit for at least an hour or overnight if possible. If you want a more succulent roast, wrap the breasts and the drumsticks with bacon and tighten with a thread. If the turkey is large, prick the skin and wrap it in parchment paper or aluminium foil and unwrap during roasting. Heat
the oven to 200° C and lower the heat to 180 ° C later. Roast the turkey as necessary, depending on its weight (about one hour per kilo). Baste periodically with the roast’s own juices and if necessary use water or soup as well. Break mlinci into pieces, put in a bowl and pour salted boiling water over them. Leave them to sit covered for a few minutes and then drain the water. Pour turkey roast drippings over mlinci and serve.
70 dg potatoes (white)
5 dg cured bacon or pork neck
5 dg red onions
2 garlic cloves
2 dl sour cream
5 dg carrots
2 dl white wine
Sweet paprika, salt, pepper, bay leaf, vegeta (vegetable and herb seasoning), whole black pepper, flour, parsley leaves, lard (2 teaspoons), oil. Cut the cured bacon into small pieces and fry them on the lard. After a few minutes, add finely chopped onions and sauté until soft. Add chopped garlic, paprika, chopped carrots, bay leaf, salt and vegeta. Peel the potatoes and cut them into small cubes, then cook them in salted, boiling water. When the vegetables are soft, add the potatoes and white wine. Simmer on low heat. In a separate bowl, mix together two spoonfuls of flour and sour cream, and pour the mixture into the soup through a strainer. Cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste and serve.