Two villages in two parts of Europe – Gorna Bela Rechka in Northwest Bulgaria and Undredal in Norway, along the Aurlandsfjord. Gorna Bela Rechka has around 60 inhabitants and as many goats. Undredal has a population of approximately 100 people and 500 goats. The cooperation between the 2 villages began in 2009 with the kind support of Inge-Anna Koleff in Vienna who made possible the connection. The Norwegian Embassy in Sofia supported the first exchanges. Since then every year people from Norway visit Bela Rechka and share different stories and experiences at the GOATMILK.
Undredal is famous with the brown goat cheese (geitost) that is still produced the traditional way and has become part of the SLOW FOOD chain. Bela Rechka is famous for the unique goat curd (козя извара) done in late summer by the women in the village.
Singing, good food and love for the nature are common values for the people in the two villages. Other topics of interest are the fear of isolation and remaining marginalized.
Here you can read the story of Sofie Klementzen from Norway about the brown cheese
The story of brown cheese and how it became the first SLOW FOOD product in Norway
By Sofie Klemetzen
We would be glad to tell the story about Undredal and Slow Food. It is a story mainly about a long struggle against the bureaucracy, to be allowed to produce goat cheese out of unpasteurized milk. In the case of Undredal, it is the brown cheese that entered Slow Food. This happened the summer of 2005, and it was Norway’s first Slow Food presidium. 2005 was in many aspects a good year for Undredal. Not only were we given the presidium, but the village of Undredal, and its surrounding villages and fjords, was made a part of the UNESCO list of world heritage. This has certainly made it a lot easier for us to be taken seriously as cheese producers. Since this story is best told oral, I will try to summarize in a few paragraphs the path towards acceptance in a hopefully satisfying manner.
We don’t know for how long cheese has been produced in Undredal, but one of the unique aspects about Undredal (in a Norwegian context at least) is that we can talk about an unbroken tradition. Underdal is a narrow valley framed by steep mountain sides, and goats, acrobatic as they are, are well adapted to such surroundings. Since there were no road access until 1988, one could not deliver the milk to the regional dairies, so in stead of throwing it away, cheese was made. The farmers depended upon the local shop to sell the cheese to secure their income. This required a cheese that made the customers come back for more. Each farmer felt a responsibility for the reputation of the village, and they all worked for perfection.
In 1982 a dairy opened in Undredal. Four goat farms worked together. Up until then, the old Food Control had ignored the remains of cheese production on Norwegian farms and summer-farms. The Food Control rested safe in the belief in that it went toward a silent death. When the farmers in Undredal decided to throw a goat cheese festival, however, the warning bells went off. In came the bureaucrats with closing demands and ultimatums. Thankfully, some brave souls in the local Control found ways to postpone the closing, and the local farmers started walking down a road of paperwork and loopholes. This struggle went on for 13 years. Luckily it ended with victory.
The farmers realized that in order to win, they had to be best at technique. One of the cheese producers went to France to get a higher education as a cheese technician. This competence, and the new found international network for traditional cheese, made the Undredal cheese, and its makers, gain respect. At the same time, the remaining farmers developed and documented their process in dialogue with the local Food Control.
The wind turned together with a growing awareness of diversity in food. The average Norwegian suddenly took an interest in where their food came from, and more and more farmers across the country turned to Undredal for inspiration and guidance. In 1997, the Undredal farms formed Norsk Gardsost (Norwegian Farm Cheese) as an organization of interest for Norwegian small scale milk processing. Their aim was (and still is) to increase the production and use of Norwegian traditional cheeses, and to improve the producers conditions. This intensified the fight against regulations with a total lack of respect for cultural and biological diversity. In 2003 Undredal dairy got full authorization to produce their cheese for sale. No pasteurization required.
The current situation for the Underdal cheese is a good one. The Undredal dairy is still the only dairy in Norway with full authorization to produce unpasteurized goat cheese. This, helped by the Slow Food presidium, and by the UNESCO list of world heritage, makes it easier to make a living as a small scale producer in a small Norwegian village. Today three farms run the dairy together. There is a fourth producer in the village as-well, but this fourth one prefers to work individually. Even if this is a story of victory, the struggle was too hard for some. In the last two decades, the number of goat farms in Undredal is halved. The village is suffering from abandonment, so the fight for the cheese is at the same time a fight for the survival of our village.
Each fall for the last three years, a festival called Smak Sakte (Taste Slowly) has been arranged in the municipality. This is a celebration of all the small scale producers, and somewhat a recruitment for future producers. These projects are all intertwined, and raise awareness of the importance on diversion in a rather mono-cultural society. Today, the Undredal cheese is sold, not only in the local shop, but in the cities and in restaurants. It is possible to make a living of this, but since Norway is an expensive country, most of the farmers still have out-side jobs.