Possibly amongst the strangest foods in Croatia are the dormice. These peculiar creatures are sometimes called “the spirits of forests”. Gorski kotar is famous for its game dishes, mushrooms, sauerkraut and potato. Various game stews, smoked cheese, mushroom soups are standard offer in this mountainous region between continental Croatia and the seaside.
But in early autumn, Čabar region lives for Dormice Days, a food festival dedicated to dormice stew. Early autumn is perfect for hunting dormice, as they eat plenty during the summer, and as the winter approaches, they are falling in their half-a-year deep sleep. This hibernation in a tree or in a hole in the ground can last up to seven months. In sping, dormouse is almost 50 per cent thinner than in late summer.
Dormouse is among the few rodents whose meat is good for eating. It is hunted in Gorski kotar and only on some Dalmatian islands. The custom was present among the ancient Romans as well. The hunting season is between September 29th and November 11th. Their fur was appreciated, while the lard is thought to be extremely healthy and good for wounds.
In Gorski Kotar is dormouse, together with the bear, wolf, and lynx trademark of forests. When hunting big game was aristocratic privilege, dormouse was a prey and source of nutrition for poorer commoners. Methods of hunting dormice then were far more diverse, with special tentacles with rods and lid, barrels with fruit, a method under a rock and the like. However, this traditional approach quickly changed. Consequently, dormice are hunted in special tentacles. Today its tentacles are called puholovka (dormice catcher) and are only permitted means of hunting them down.
Puholovka is placed into a tree at a height of about 3 m. As bait commonly used is apple or carob. Almost every hunter has its own district where hunting, and generally do not visit each other in the area of hunting. Every hunter gives a special attention to the natural breeding. Today dormice meat is no longer a source of life, but specialty. To hunt them hunters go at night, sitting by an open fire, and enjoy delights in recounting experiences.
The meat of dormouse is nutty and sweet. It goes excellent with tomato-based sauce and its own fat, with polenta as a side dish. Dormouse is eaten with fingers, sucking bits of meat between the small bones. If the dormouse stew is made in its traditional way, the sauce and the meat blend together perfectly!