Velika planina and cheese trnič

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A “KulKul moment” happens when the culinary (kulinarično) meets the cultural (kulturno). Just think of artist Ivana Kobilca’s famous painting Woman Drinking Coffee or writer Ivan Cankar’s prose sketch A Cup of Coffee, to name but two examples. Yet there are days when even the most dyed-in-the-wool urbanites hear the call of the mountains and highlands.

Just over an hour from Ljubljana lies the karst plateau of Velika Planina, a fairy-tale mountain pasture that is home to one of the largest herdsmen’s settlements in Europe. There is something stimulating about the herdsmen’s way of life. This solitary existence in the freedom of a remote natural landscape has been celebrated in folk songs since time immemorial. Today it inspires an increasing number of city dwellers seeking an escape from the pressures of everyday life.

A visit to Velika Planina has long been a popular day out for the people of Ljubljana. Amid the soft whiteness of the snow-covered landscape in winter or the clanging of cowbells in spring, they set out on hikes or other sporting pursuits. And find their own moments that, in this extraordinarily beautiful setting, soon acquire cultural and culinary dimensions. They become “KulKul moments”.

The most characteristic food product of Velika Planina, a type of cheese called Trnič, holds much symbolic value as it does nutritional goodness. Alpine grasses and flowers grow and smell differently up here, and this is also reflected in the famous Trnič cheese, which is not the same down in the valley. Trnič is also a story of skill, patience, longing and love. This special pear-shaped cheese made from curd, cream and salt is a traditional product of the herdsmen on Velika Planina, who use carved strips of wood known as pisave to impress distinctive decorative patterns into the cheese. In autumn, when the summer grazing season comes to an end, it was traditional for herdsmen to give Trnič cheeses to their sweethearts or future wives as proof of their love and fidelity. The cheeses were always made in pairs. The herdsman would keep one for himself and give the other to his intended, who in some cases would keep the cheese for many years. If she accepted the cheese, this meant that she accepted his courtship.

You can still taste this special cheese on Velika Planina today and this former symbol of love is a popular and unique souvenir that brings the breath of the mountains into many a home in the city. Perhaps even as a token of love. A “KulKul moment” that takes us from tradition to the present, from unspoilt nature to urban reality.