The end of summer is time when cabbage is harvested and turned into sauerkraut, in a special procedure of making it sour. Ogulin is nationwide-famous for this product, deemed as best. But, the true Ogulin sauerkraut is made with special kind of cabbage, called Ogulinac. But how is it done? This is the reason why we visited Dujmić Selo, a village on the shores of Sabljaci Lake, and talked to Mr. Marinko Sabljak, director of Agricultural Association Ogulin (PZ Ogulin).
The association, comprising several farmers in the vicinity and made firstly as an agricultural association of Homeland War veterans, is mostly focused on producing original and traditional Ogulin sauerkraut, but it also prepares potatoes, beans, turnips, parsley, and other seasonal vegetables. The Ogulin sauerkraut now has its EU protected designation of origin, this every sauerkraut (traditional sort or otherwise) has this brand.
Ogulin sauerkraut are made through the natural lactic fermentation of a fresh variety of cabbage. Mr. Sabljak shows us in the cabbage field the plant’s trunk, which is quite long (called “kocen”). Its yellow leaves are very thin, nearly transparent and extremely pliable. The seeds are conserved and then traded among the small-scale producers. In the fields, it is harvested by hand, which requires experience and attention.
Depending on the size, it is grated or fermented in special basins. Mr. Sabljak takes us to his neighbour and a famous producer of Ogulin sauerkraut. We enter a yard full of cabbage. The women are sorting the vegetables, deciding which will be grated and which are ready for fermentation. The men are taking the cabbage to process and later prepare pack them for selling.
We are taken also to the fermentation process room. The smell is traditionally unbearable, but the flavour of the sauerkraut is recognisably superb. The fermentation process requires the addition of a clear solution of five to six percent table salt, which in anaerobic conditions leads to the formation of lactic acid, a natural preservative. It takes some two months for cabbage to become sour.
Traditional Ogulinac is very specific sort because of the geographical position of Ogulin. It is surrounded on three sides by hills, and has vibrant difference of temperature in day and night during summer. Because of that, Ogulin field experiences dew even in summer months, together with few very important summer showers. The temperature for fermentation is artificially adjusted to 16 centigrade, but in traditional way it was done in October, when weather was already cold. Thus, tradition tells us the Ogulin sauerkraut was ready to eat in December.
Once the fermentation process has finished, the cabbage is manually extracted from the basins and evaluated, by eye and by hand, to see if they are done. The salty liquid (rasol) is also conserved and used for purposes that are not necessarily gastronomic (indeed, the liquid is rich in vitamin C and is used to ward off the common cold and to cure hangover).
The product can be vacuum packed but it can also be found in local markets, where women usually sell various kinds of preserves in particular stands, including Ogulin sauerkraut. The product is eaten as an accompaniment for meat dishes (like the famous sarma), for which Croatian and Balkan cuisine is famous. The sauerkraut can also be stewed with meat or added to soups and stews. Often the salty liquid is also used in the soups, or it is used as a salad dressing.
This unique product is indeed worth preserving and is one of the gastronomy features whole Croatia should be proud of.