Updated: Jan 7
Prosciutto defines the Croatian palate. There is no meeting with friends, family celebrations or business lunches that does not include prosciutto as an appetizer. In the area where ham is produced, it is a total shame if the guest does not have to cut a few slices of this delicacy that has traditionally been dried in the wind or smoked.
There are numerous prosciutto fairs in Croatia, but two of them are the most famous: the International Fair of Prosciutto in Drniš and the International Prosciutto Fair in Tinjan. We visited the Tinjan Fair which has been held for twelve years in Tinjan, the small town of Central Istria. Tinjan is known for stone drywall, architectural heritage, famous blacksmith tools, but because of its natural features, it is also a place of numerous prosciutto makers. Therefore, in 2006, Tinjan proclaimed itself the municipality of Istrian prosciutto.
In Istria, many households had only one pig, which was large, and the Istrian prosciutto is thus also recognizably large. The prosciutto makers shaped it, salted it very slightly, let it dry after a couple of days and placed in special wooden crates on which a carefully measured stone was put stone. In this way, all the blood was sucked out and the meat was tender. After a week, they would take the prosciutto out, salt it with a mixture of thick salt, pepper and rosemary and laurel leaves. The prosciuttos are then hanged in an attic with open windows and left to dry on the strong, clean and cold bura wind. Istrian winter with a lot of bura means better prosciutto, and if southern wind – jugo - blows, then the prosciutto would be taken to a basement, and sometimes it was a little bit smoked. In the spring, prosciutto went to the basement where it would pass the ripening at the ideal temperature and get the noble mould. At the end of the summer prosciutto is ready to enjoy, with a skill of cutting it in thin slices and careful cuts - like when a violin is playing.
This process continues in Istria, with more modern technology. But bura and the creation of noble moulds are still pivotal conditions for Istrian prosciutto. Its texture combines with Istrian cheese and olive oil, so every tavern in Istria is unimaginable without prosciutto. Family prosciutto makers do not produce a lot of prosciutto but they are on the price. Few of them cares now for pigs, but they all get meat from Croatian pig farmers. They are gathered in an association that is currently led by Milan Buršić from Vodnjan, the only family prosciutto of Istria that lives from the production of prosciutto. We are always delighted to sit at his agritourism, and we did likewise in Tinjan, where we tried his non-smoked prosciutto that won the gold prize.
Among the other Istrian prosciutto makers, we saw the champion for the Istrian prosciutto Jelenić who are traversing Istria with their prosciutto made in Sveti Petar u Šumi, as well as with musical instruments because they play throughout the largest Croatian peninsula. There was also a wonderful family Franjul from Sveti Petar u Šumi, where we never know what is better - dried Istrian sausage or prosciutto! Istrian prosciutto, which has European protection of the authenticity label Istarski pršut / Istrski pršut, together with neighbouring Slovenia, were also presented by prosciutto makers Antolović from Tinjan, Mekiš from Vižinada, Pauletić from Višnjan, Radetić from Tinjan, Šimonović from Vižinada, Milohanić from Tinjan and Dujmović from Kringa, and among the non-family production stands out the Pisinium company. All of them are awarded with a silver reward at this fair. We had the opportunity to meet with the legendary prosciutto maker Miro Vošten, who reminded us of the charm of his Tomaž Tavern in St. Lovreč.
The first Croatian product protected in the EU is Krk prosciutto, made by the Žužić family from Vrh. Along with sea salt and spices, the Krk prosciutto is air dried without smokiness and ripe in its own skin. This specialty is popular with fans of original products, and Žužić family traditions are best presented in their tavern and trade with cured meat products on the island of Krk.
Another great region of prosciutto production is Dalmatia. Dalmatian prosciutto, protected by the designation of geographical origin, is specific for its saltiness, smoked with light fire and subjected to drying and ripening for at least one year. Without additives and preservatives, Dalmatian prosciutto became one of the symbols of Dalmatia, with its peculiar aroma, smell of smoke and a characteristic mild saltiness. The champion in the production of Dalmatian prosciutto and champion of the whole fair is Mijukić Prom from Runovići in Imotski region. This meat drier has been working since 2002 and has received a number of awards, as they produce Dalmatian prosciutto, Dalmatian dried ham and Dalmatian bacon in a traditional way. With them, the golden award was given to the company Smjeli from Dugopolje, which produces Dalmatian prosciutto, Dalmatian bacon, and other dried meat products typical for Dalmatia.
Many memories of prosciutto bring to mind Drniš and the tradition of prosciutto production in and around this Dalmatian town. The specificity of the microclimate gives the prosciutto which is less salty, has a mild aroma of smoke and a degree of dryness. And here is an important bura, but Drniš prosciutto makers often emphasize the benefits of the jugo wind as the prosciutto would remain too dry without it. The champion title in Tinjan for Drniš Prosciutto was given to the Bel Cro Trade from Miljevac. Prosciutto is smoked here with a special herb, following a centuries-old tradition and with small secrets passed from generation to generation. At the fair, Drniš prosciutto was also presented with Maran production.
For smoked prosciutto, a gold medal was given to Nira from Pakovo selo, OPG Reljanović from Otavice near Drniš, Porcus, Pršutana Perajica, Mrki prosciutto from Trogir, Butchery Lukin and Družba, and silver Dim-Mes from Drniš, Roca from Stankovci, and Veteran cooperative Lemeš. Among the silver there was also a cheerful group from the Montenegrin seat of Cetinje under the name Cluster Montenegrin Prosciutto. We also met with the delicacies of Pršutane Brkić from Konjevrate, known for its local rose of wind, and the specialty is Pršut Barić from Babina Greda, in Slavonia, which is made from black Slavonian pigs.