Discovering the Land of Cheese in Soča Valley
Unleash Your Sense of Taste on the Cheese Trails and Unearth the Beauty of Slovenia
By Marla Horn Lazarus
Welcome to EDEN…
Soča Valley, the first destination in Slovenia to earn the title European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) due to its sustainable development of tourism – especially for cheese enthusiasts. If you’re a cheese lover, like me, then an adventure on a cheese trail should definitely be on your bucket list.
A Valley for Memories
When you embark on a cheese trail tour, your journey will include learning about the history, landscape and rich culture of the regions in which the various cheeses are made.
Take Soča, for instance. It’s home to the Slovenian River, one of the most beautiful emerald-hued rivers in Europe, known as the river of adventures. Over countless centuries, its water has flowed across waterfalls while cascading through gorges and valleys nestled amongst the majestic Alpine peaks. The valley of the Slovenian River also preserves the shocking heritage of World War I. Part of the EDEN ranking is due to its stories of the Path of Peace in Kobarid. Walking on the path, with a guide, you feel like you are side by side with a World War I soldier.
The Long Tradition of Cheese Making
Alongside the Soča Valley are many roads and paths leading to places where the old traditional farm activities are still alive. You will find sheep and cows grazing on pastures above the valley, supplying milk for genuine Bovec, Tolminc, Bohinj and Velika Planina cheeses. Slovenia is home to three different indigenous cheeses: Nanoški sir (sir means cheese), Tolminc sir and Bovški sir. The first two are made of 100 percent cow’s milk, the third one is 100 percent sheep milk. Each year, many different flavors and shapes of cheese are available from mountain shepherds in the meadows.
Each cheese trail offers something different, so make sure to choose one of your own tasting. When on the paths in the mountains, learn about life and work of the Soča Valley cheese-makers, while indulging in luscious mountain delicacies. Surrounded with numerous mountains, this area is home of two cheeses, Bovški and Tolminc cheese, labeled with Protected Geographical lndication (GI), a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities to that origin. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. Visits to multiple dairies offers a shepherd’s lunch with culinary treats and presentations of the cheese tradition in the region.
The slopes of Mt. Matajur, a border mountain between Slovenia and Italy, offer beautiful views of the Alpine rim on the north and of the Adriatic coast on the south. The pass between Mt. Kolovrat and Mt. Matajur forms a natural link between Soča and Benečija. This cheese trail leads the way to a dairy farm, Jelenov Breg, in the Idrska Planina mountain pasture, where cheese made from cow’s milk results in a delicious sweet and salty ricotta. After a delicious lunch, a hike to the peak of Mt. Matajur offers guests pristine views of the Gulf of Adriatic and the high alpine peaks.
As part of the tourist cheese route, Planina Laz is the oldest of the mountain highlands, and during summer, is still very much a working highland where the herdsmen live, produce and sell cheese. This cheese trail leads across the many highlands in the Bohinj area where you can sample and purchase cheese and other dairy products.
The pastureland under Mt. Krn, popular for hiking or climbing to surrounding mountaintops, is full of natural historic sites. All within the borders of Triglav National Park are hiking trails that lead to the surrounding peaks, including the Path of Peace, European footpath E7 and Alpe-Adria-Trail. This cheese trail connects four mountain pastures in a circular route. Visiting dairies, watching presentations of cheese making, followed by a degustation is simply wonderful.
Then you’re on to tour a livestock barn in a family run farm to see the gentle grazing of cows, sheep and goats. Spend time and explore the very heart of the farms, including the ripening cellars, where many of the cheeses are matured. Since it is impossible to judge the quality of cheese without tasting it, make the tasting room your final stop.
Taste of Slovenia
With so many different cheese trails to choose, don’t forget the Slovenian honeybees. Dairy and honey produced from the gastronomic regions at the foot of the Alps is intimately connected with mountain pastures where cows, goats, and sheep have been feeding for centuries. Milk is the basis for original cheeses, such as the Trnič cheese and the spicy Mohant cheese, which has a protected geographical indication.
Trnič, the Most Romantic Cheese
While trekking the trails and visiting dairies, many different cheeses surpassed our expectations. From the traditional Slovenian cheese of love, Trnič, a pear-shaped hard special cheese made of curd, cream, and salt is decorated with special ornaments. In old times, the shepherds gave Trnič as a sign of love. It’s shaped, dried partially, finished and decorated with seals, prints of wooden boards, with engraved ornaments representing the shepherd’s artistic signature. Always presented in pairs and embellished with decorations, shepherds kept one and gave the other to their sweethearts. If the girl accepted the cheese, it meant that she consented to the shepherd’s courting. Trnič was an expression of a man’s love, desire and admiration of a girl as well as their commitment to be faithful to each other.
To scout cheese trail tours available in Slovenia, visit www.tastycheesetour.eu.