Branza de Burduf cheese, a Slow Food Presidium, was the focus of a day of festivities in Romania
Speaking on the phone from Romania, Marian Popoiu's voice is full of enthusiasm. Peace and quiet has returned to the Ferma Bucegi dairy, in the Carpathian Mountains, following an event that brought together around 30 artisanal producers and the local authorities at the end of May.
The producers from the Slow Food Bucegi Mountains Branza de Burduf Presidium came together to celebrate the success of the project, inaugurated by Slow Food in 2005. They also discussed key objectives for the future and the need to widen the cheese's production and distribution network.
Branza de Burduf cheese is made from a mix of cow's and sheep's milk, and is only made in the summer, during the period when the herders bring their flocks up to the stâne (mountain dairies) at altitudes between 1,600 and 1,800 meters. The cheese is aged for between 20 days and 3 months in coaja de brad, resin-rich fir bark which is softened in boiling whey before being wrapped around the Branza forms. As time passes, the bark, which is sewn into a perfect cylinder, shapes the cheese and gives it intense aromatic notes.
Currently over 2,000 cheesemakers still make Branza in the Bucegi Mountains, the highest in the Carpathians, but they are struggling with unfair competition from industrial dairies who use the same name to sell cheese made from pasteurized milk down in the valleys.
In this isolated territory, with no support programs, it has not been easy to create a network that allows the producers to exchange knowledge and share common strategies to ensure that this extraordinary cheese finds its place on the market.
The day after the meeting, Marian, the Presidium coordinator, proudly describes how it went. "I'm very happy," he says. "This first meeting turned into a real party. We also welcomed several tourists, who joined us after they were drawn by the celebrations. The event was useful for us to get to know each other, to exchange experiences, to allow young people to communicate with older generations and to talk about future goals."
In recent years, following Romania's entry into the European Union, cheesemakers have had to deal with the strict impositions of EU regulations as well as the competition from fake industrial Branza.
A first step towards helping them has been the creation of Ferma Bucegi, a shared mountain dairy constructed last year. On the website www.ferma-bucegi.ro it is possible to take a virtual tour of the structure. All of the Presidium producers now have access to the dairy, which has gradually also become a destination for school visits.
A little over a year ago, Marian opened a farmhouse where tourists can stay close to his family's farm, so that he could sell all of his Branza to guests. In general it remains hard to find commercial outlets for this ancient and valuable cheese.
"There is still much to do. We must facilitate access to local markets and work on the use of shared processing techniques. But it was still important to celebrate the milestones we've already reached with the Presidium project. We'll definitely organize another meeting next year," he concludes.
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