Photo: Isiwal / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

A Guide to Balkan Cheese

Jetsetter Jenn12 comments

It’s hands-down my favorite food, and my favorite way to get to know a new country: through it’s cheese. I had no idea what to expect from Eastern Europe, but what I found was delicious, artisanal, handmade cheeses in a dizzying array of flavors and textures. Move over France, the Balkans are dairy fairies.

Balkan Cheese: A Guide

balkan cheese
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Pag Island Cheese (Paski Sir)

Country of Origin: Croatia
Derived From: Sheep’s Milk
Where To Find It: Nationwide. This is Croatia’s most famous dairy export, winning international awards handily against other European countries, so it’s celebrated and sold almost everywhere.
Texture: Firm
What Makes It Special: This cheese comes from sheep only found on Pag Island, on the central Croatian Coast. There are two things that give Pag Island Cheese it’s distinct, award-winning flavor. One is that wild sage is abundant in Pag, and the sheep feed exclusively on this earthy herb. This diet passes into the flavor of the cheese. The second is the Pag Island has a history of salt production, and sea winds blow salt around the island and onto that sage that the sheep dine on. This means an extra dose of delicious saltiness, and the result is just heaven.


Balkan Cheese
Photo: Roberta F./Own Work/CC-BY-SA-3.0

Country of Origin: 
Derived From: Cow’s Milk (native Busa cows)
Where To Find It: Kordun, Central Croatia
Texture: Soft
What Makes It Special: It’s unpasteurized! This is one of my favorite things about European cheese — the natural bacteria that give cheese it all that flavor aren’t killed off by boiling the milk before processing it. It’s a brilliant white, the texture is like a putting a pillow in your mouth, and it’s fresh with a low salt content (which means you can eat lots).


Country of Origin: Croatia
Derived From: Cow’s Milk
Where to Find It: All over, but it’s traditional of Northern Croatia
Texture: Supersoft, spreadable
What Makes It Special: Croatian cream cheese! How could you not love it? It’s an absolute miracle slathered over a piece of crusty, yeasty bread. It’s got a little tang from the sour cream that goes into the production of it, and after one bite you will want to dive face-first into a vat of it and never come back. Seriously.

Livno Cheese

Bosnian Cheese
Photo: Uniquenick/Own Work/CC-BY-SA-4.0

Country of Origin: Bosnia
Derived From:
80% Sheep / 20% Cow’s Milk
Where to Find It:
Livno, near the Bosnia/Croatia border and surrounding areas. It’s also popular in the Dalmatian region of Croatia.
Hard, Aged
What Makes It Special:
 This is like a fruity, tangy, raw version of Parmesan cheese. Some say the mountain grasses that the Bosnian sheep eat lends it the sharpness that makes it distinct. All I know is that a little of this grated over a salad or pasta dish makes it taste divine. 

Albanian Feta

Albanian Cheese
Photo: JJ Harrison/Own Work/CC-BY-SA-2.5

Country of Origin: Albania
Derived From: Sheep and goat milk (exact proportions are murky and vary by region)
Where to Find It: All over Albania
Texture: Firm, crumbly
What Makes It Special: Um, two words. Feta. Cheese. The Albanians claim that they invented this before the Greeks, but the Greeks were better at marketing it. Either way, Albania does a feta that would give it’s Eastern neighbor a run for it’s money. It’s worked into dozens of Albanian dishes, but it stands up just fine on it’s own, also. Don’t skip this one if you visit.

Njeguski Sir

Country of Origin: Montenegro
Derived From: Unknown – perhaps a unicorn?
Where to Find It: It’s Montenegro’s most popular local cheese, so it can be found almost anywhere in the country
Texture: Semi-soft
What Makes It Special: This is Montenegro’s take on Swiss, but they do it soooo much better (sorry Switzerland, I still love you). It’s creamy, it has all these magical little air pockets in it, and it’s preserved in oil (yay, saturated fat!). A little of this and some Balkan cured meat, and you’ll have a lunch fit for a goddess. I won’t lie, this cheese was my entire meal more than once, and I regret nothing.

Have you tried any of these cheeses? Which is your favorite? Which do you want to try the most? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

Featured Photo Credit: Isiwal / Pag Island Cheese / CC-BY-SA-3.0 

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