In late middle ages count Fridrik Ratkay from the castle of Veliki Tabor fell in love with a local peasant girl Veronika of Desinić. Their secret meeting point was a hill overlooking the castle. Because it was forbidden love and a sin, this hill was named Sinful Hill – Grešna gorica. Since 1996 here works the first registered Croatian agritourism, a splendid place of tradition and enjoyment, dedicated to the grandma’s traditional cuisine of Zagorje.
We came here at dusk and were greeted by Mr. Podboj, from family that runs this place in midst of centuries old forests, green valleys, vineyards and romantic chapels on hilltops. The family brought here various old and useful items that were once everyday things in Zagorje, such as an old wine barrel that could contain 7000 litres of wine. Today it greets guests near the entrance to the restaurant, painted with vistas of life in the past times.
“Welcome, friend” is instant message to everyone coming in Zagorje, and Grešna gorica is no exception. Traditional hospitality of rural Zagorje is one of the brands of this Croatian area, and it comes always with hearty food on the table. Grešna gorica is famous for its traditional recipes and modern cooking methods. During past 20 years its menu is always renewed but it preserves originality and authenticity.
Our grand starter was a plate of cold appetizers that describe well Zagorje’s peasant diet in the past and today. Homemade Zagorje cheese is very special semi-hard cheese as it is made according to the grandpa Eduard’s recipe. A signature appetizer for whole northern Croatia must be cottage cheese with sour cream (sir s vrhnjem), often additionally adorned with parsley and garlic. Every market in northern Croatia proudly presents women with colourful plastic small bowls where cheese is put, and with cream whose aroma confirms that milk comes from the local pastures.
Homemade prezvušt is another delicacy on the plate. It is traditional pork product made all over continental Croatia. There are some regional differences, but main ingredients are the same: meat from the pork’s head, heart, tongue, and skin. Usually some garlic, sweet red pepper and pepper is added. Real gourmet style is to additionally smoke prezvuršt in order to enjoy its smoky flavour. It is cut cold and eaten with onions and homemade bread.
Another “yuck” food is hladetina, a horror for children and absolute heaven for pork fans. This specific meat specialty is practical way to preserve meat and get meat jelly. Hladetina is made usually with pork legs and skin, cooked with vegetables and seasoning such as carrots, parsley, onions, pepper, bay leaf, and vinegar. It is cooked over slow fire for three hours. The end result is jelly kind meat soup with a specific taste.
Nothing is wasted in traditional cuisine, and in Zagorje you can also try zaseka or bacon spread, made from bacon, lard and specially prepared seasonings. Homemade salami and bacon adorn the appetizer plate and it is almost dangerous to indulge all dishes in it as the main meal is just about to come!
Before that, one should definitely try homemade corn bread, made with white corn, and pumpkin seed oil. Tremendous comeback of pumpkin seed oil is a trend in recent decade. Acknowledging healthy elements of black-green oil is addition to gastronomic efforts to revitalise the use of this oil. It already is a recognisable brand of Austrian, Slovenian, and northern Croatian cuisine. With its nutty flavour and specific aroma, it is indeed delicacy oil, ideal for salads, vegetables, pasta, and cream soups. We recommend soaking homemade corn bread in it to get the full flavour. Alone it goes best with bean and onion salad.
Our main course consisted of tremendously delicious blood sausage and turkey with mlinci, a thin dried flatbread prepared by simply pouring it in boiled salted water. This is indeed as local as it gets, especially in the colder part of the year. It would takes us some more days to try buncek (roasted pork shank) with sauerkraut, pork greaves, suckling pork, duck with mlinci, etc.
Specialties of the house include the Taborgrad steak (veal steak with mushrooms), Vingrad steak (veal steak with mushrooms and home seasoning), Zagorski bregi (or Zagorje Hills, a plate of cutlets, sausages, burger, and roast chicken), Grešna gorica steak (pork steak filled with homemade bacon and cheese), Desinić cutlet (pork cutlet in garlic sauce), Dragon’s steak (beef tenderloin a la wild with potato dumplings), deer stew with homemade dumplings, and Sunday’s lunch – either roasted pork or veal with baked beans and potato with onions. But don’t forget to taste delicious Zagorje soup and Zagorje štrukli.
Along relaxed and interesting talk with Damir Podboj we tried Zagorje’s local wine, made in the vineyards in the neighbourhood. Ideally settled in the old oak woods, you can enjoy here together with your family and friends, overlooking meadows and hills, visiting a small farm of deer and let the children to play carelessly while you enjoy the culinary “sins” on Sinful Hill.