The goal of the Presidium is to preserve Tcherni Vit Green Cheese, which is in grave danger of extinction because the last traditional producer, who is almost 80-years old, has decided he can no longer make it. Understanding the importance of preserving this cheese and cheese-making tradition, the young Mayor of Tcherni Vit has started making the cheese, and is looking to find others to join him. A building is being renovated that will serve as a central place to age, store and sell the cheese.
Together with the old cheese maker, all the steps of the production process will be documented and a production protocol will be written defining the care and feeding of the sheep, the production and aging processes for the cheese, vouching for the final product’s traceability and high quality. Tcherni Vit Green Cheese will then be promoted in Bulgaria as well as on the international market.
Tcherni Vit Green Cheese
The quiet village of Tcherni Vit is huddled among the peaks of the Balkan Mountains, known in Bulgaria as the Stara Planina mountain. The Tcherni Vit (Black winding) River flows through the village cutting it in half. The air heavy with humidity provides the perfect condition for the aging of the unique Blue Cheese (known to the locals as zeleno sirene or Green Cheese), which is made only in the village of Tcherni Vit and surrounding communities, and only in very small quantities.
Sheep from some of the 60 families in the village are gathered together after St. George Day, the Day of the Shepard, on May 6th when the lambs are sold. The native breed of Teteven sheep are small, 60-70 cm high, with long wool of various colors, long tails that almost reach the ground and short ears. Each sheep produces about 60 liters of milk per season.
The sheep are taken up into the mountain pastures to graze until the end of September or early October. From May to July they are milked by hand three times a day, after that twice a day, and the cheese-making process begins immediately after each milking. Sometimes goat and sheep milk is mixed. Rennet is added and the milk is left for two hours to curdle. The cheese is cut into pieces with a knife, and then placed in a cloth-lined wooden box. The cloth is pulled over the cheese covering it and a wooden top put on the box.
Two large stones are placed on top to add pressure. The cheese is left for two to four hours, the whey dripping into a bucket below. The cheese is cut into larger pieces, salted with course grain salt and stacked in layers in a barrel made from the wood of a Lime Tree. The barrel is closed and brine forms. The cheese can be left in the brine for up to two years. The barrels are left in the mountains until the end of the grazing season, then brought down to the village in October and stored in the cellars. The molds do not begin to form until the barrel is opened. Once exposed to the moist air the molds form spontaneously quickly covering the exterior. If there are holes in the paste the molds also penetrate the inside of the cheese, transforming the cheese to one of the very few with a natural blue marbling.