Updated: Oct 12
In the centre of Bačva, near Višnjan, we tried to find cod production. We leaned on our noses, expecting the penetrating smell of this northern fish, but in the calm Bačva we could just feel the warm sun that shone on Istria in the first days of March. With a simple phone call, we realized that the production of cod was too large to be done in the premises of century-old houses, but that the company Milena is located at the foot of the village, in modern production. The owner Aleksandar Stefanov is already waiting for us there, and he is taking us on a tour.
If you buy cod in shopping malls or try it in restaurants, it is very likely that you will eat Norwegian cod according to the recipe of the Stefanov family, which is produced in Bačva under the brand name "Baccala' della mamma". The well-known taste of cod in bianco is already an integral part of various fish appetizers, with the senses enjoying mild cod and marinated bluefish. In addition, cod has become a very popular fish in Croatia because it can be prepared in various ways.
Cod is a tradition in Istria. It used to be eaten just before Christmas and Easter, that is, on fasting days. "My mother used to make her own cod in our family tavern during those fasting days. People liked it, so she started taking orders, per kilo, two ", says Aleksandar about the beginnings of this production in the tavern Milena. In the 1990s, when small shops began to open, the family beat cod and sold in smaller quantities to those stores. Soon Poreč had a source of excellent cod in bianco. The manufactory officially opened in 1996, in the area behind the restaurant, and they started procuring better and better processing machines. By entering retail chains, the whole business was started.
The brother took over the restaurant, and Alexander devoted himself to cod. The new facility sprang up in the early 2000s, but today the production space is too small and will soon be moved to a new space. One hundred tons of cod are produced annually, and the Stefanovs have taken over almost all retail chains in Croatia. They are faithful to the quality of the products, which is the best competition to various Italian and Slovenian manufacturers. "The recipe is universal, although my mother and I have profiled a secret for mass production, but the most important thing is to stick to the foundation," says Aleksandar, who reminds that they are the only big producers who do not put milk, flour, other fish and potatoes in their products. We see that for ourselves by walking through production line.
Over time, they met directly the producer of dried cod on the remote Lofoten Islands, in the middle of the Norwegian Sea, where it is called white gold. "We have been there several times. It’s cold, but it’s beautiful, with an abundance of colours in nature. They come to Croatia every year, they stick to the agreement, they follow us with quality ", Aleksandar reminds of his stay in the Norwegian north. It is a conservative people, but very modest, completely dedicated to their work with fish and especially cod, with which they supply the whole world. We saw that dried cod ourselves. It stands in plain water for one day and is then mechanically beaten and prepared into the final product.
Cod began to be consumed in other parts of the year, and the Stefanovs are pleased that cod began to be presented as part of the Istrian culinary heritage. Historically, cod was used in the entire area of the eastern Adriatic coast where Venice ruled, in two forms: in bianco and šugo. Now cod is harmoniously served as part of the appetizers in Istrian hotels and restaurants, and Baccala' della mamma has become the brand that best penetrates the tables of fans of Istrian gastronomy. Even at the time of the coronavirus pandemic, production did not stop as customers began to buy more products in malls.
Aleksandar trained to be a chef and they experimented with new flavours with the whole family. Thus, the idea of new additives and new series with truffle, olive oil and a spicy version came from traditional cod in bianco, which was originally supposed to be a product for Slavonia, which is still hard to conquer. Pasteurized products extend the shelf life up to seven months. The latest product is cod pate, in tubes, which have a shelf life of up to a year. In this way, they harmoniously solved the problem of various consumption choices: on the one hand, there are people who like the creamy taste of cod, while on the other hand, there are those who like to come across large pieces of fish. This is especially true in Istria, where people are accustomed to the traditional look and taste. There will certainly be new products in the new production.
"We try cod every day, we get a bit tired with it over time, but we still love it, especially if we have guests," Aleksandar answers our question about how often cod is eaten in the family. We also sat in Aleksandar's tavern as guests, with a glass of excellent Malvasia by the nearby winemaker Valter Žiković. We are well acquainted with cod in bianco, because we have tasted it all over Croatia and it is really made with obvious care and dedication. There is a visible effort to keep this product as close as possible to traditional, hand-beaten cod, which is in such great demand in Istria and Kvarner.
The flavours of other products are equally great. Cod Tartufino, with the addition of black truffles, is the unmistakable taste of the interior of Istria, and it is masterfully made so that this noble tuber does not take over the entire taste and smell of the spread. Cod Oliveto is prepared with the addition of green olives and olive oil, which gives it a fresh and mild note of green Mediterranean. There’s also Cod Spicy, with red peppers and chilli, with a slightly spicy flavour to satisfy the palates of many fans of slightly stronger aromas.
This great fish conquers more and more people in Croatia through these wonderful spreads, and for more information, great recipes and knowledge about cod, visit the Baccala 'della mamma page, but for great flavours, you need to come to the nearest store and find the best cod in Croatia!
Bačva 15, 52463 Višnjan
Tel .: 052 / 449-593, 052 / 449-253
Mob .: 091 / 888-0740, 091 / 202-0470
Fax .: 052 / 449-593, 052 / 449-253