Gacko is a small municipality with around 8,000 inhabitants in south-eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is mainly known for the nearby coal mine and thermoelectric powerplant which is also the largest employer in the area. However, Gacko has also its own unique and characteristic way of producing kajmak, a type of cream cheese produced and consumed across the Western Balkans.
The traditional method of making kajmak is by boiling the raw milk slowly, then simmering it for two hours over a very low heat. After it is taken off the heat, the cream is skimmed and left to chill, and mildly ferment, for several hours or days. Unlike this traditional production method, in the Gacko recipe, the kajmak is matured for several months in sacks made from sheepskin or goatskin. As a result, the Gacko kajmak turns from a white to a yellowish colour, with a firm but not hard consistency, a slightly salty taste, and a characteristic aroma acquired during its ripening. When it is removed from its sack, the cheese is dry and crumbly.
However, not many people have an opportunity to enjoy this unique taste as it is mainly sold in the markets or restaurants of the Gacko region. With this in mind, the Gacko Kajmak Producers Association has launched an initiative to introduce Gacko kajmak to the world. Dragana Milović is the President of the Association, which was founded in 2021. At the beginning, the association had nine members and now it has 24 members, mainly women from rural regions. Dairy production, including kajmak, is the main income for 90% of them.
According to Dragana, the objective of the Association is to have their product branded and recognised locally and regionally. In order to achieve that, specific procedures need to be followed. The first is to establish a production traceability system, which would ensure product branding by competent institutions. The Association believes that kajmak branding will lead to wider recognisability, and in turn, to a higher demand and a better price. The aspiration of the Association members is to improve their material situation by producing kajmak, particularly in rural areas. Consequently, the production must be standardised, while at the same time preserving the tradition and the recognisable kajmak taste made in the region. “Our kajmak is a unique and very valuable product, and that is why we want to protect and promote it,” says Dragana.
The Association recently got the support of an EU-funded project for their initiative. The Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2) is being implemented in 63 local governments across the Western Balkans and Gacko municipality is one of the 13 partner local government units included in in Bosnia and Herzegovina, funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The support from the project included training on hygiene and milk quality, proper cattle feeding and keeping records on livestock fodder and milk quantities. Participants also received training on the method of establishing a production traceability system in the Gacko kajmak production process and on the requirements for branding. In addition, the project also provided the association with equipment for milk processing and testing which is crucial for quality control.
The implementation of this project is the first step towards the branding of Gacko kajmak. It is a very important issue for both the local community and the region as farming is the main sources of income in the Gacko region. “The support that we got from both the EU and UNDP through the ReLOaD2 project was of high importance as it enabled us to get closer to our aim of branding and promoting Gacko kajmak to more people,” says Dragana Milović.
About the project
The Regional Programme for Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2) is a continuation of EU-supported initiatives – Local Democracy Strengthening Project (LOD, 2009-2016) and the subsequently expanded Regional Programme for Local Democracy in the Western Balkans (ReLOaD, 2017-2020). The overall objective of the project is to strengthen participatory democracies and EU integration in the Western Balkans by empowering civil society and encouraging young people to actively take part in the decision-making process, and by improving a supportive legal and financial environment for civil society.
Photo credits: ReLOaD2
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