Writer and Photographer Babs Perkins is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. These images are from her project ‘Cheese Stories – Serbia‘. To see Babs’ galleries click on any image.
The light is fading and the shepherd is weary. Returning from the high pastures, a 5 kilometer trip each way, it is time for milking. It only takes a minute or two to milk each ewe but it all adds up with 250 sheep. The milk will be turned into the famed Stara Planina Kačkavalji Sir (Old Mountain Kaskavali cheese)
The shepherd helps this lamb feed for a bit before the lining up the ewes to be milked. By continuing to allow the lambs to feed directly from their mothers, it is believed the ewes produce better milk.
Around the world, cheese is disappearing and going extinct. According to the Fromages de Terroirs Association (an authority on traditional French cheeses) 50 have disappeared in the last 30 years, in France. France! Where they really care about cheese. Imagine for a moment what’s happening in other places. Places where there isn’t an internationally known and respected food culture. Places where circumstance or the financial situation has not been so kind. Places with history and tradition but no voice.
Mother and daughter tend a small but sturdy herd of cows. Twice a day they milk the cows, process the milk and make the regionally well-known Zlatarski Sir, Cheese from the Zlatibor Mountain Region in Western Serbia along the border with Montenegro and Bosnia and Hercegovina.
While modern technology, like vacuum milkers, are used, the rest of the process is done by hand. Lots of walking, lifting, carrying, and cleaning.
An image that transcends place Although this is southeastern Serbia it could be in any temperate area. A farmer and his tractor. The tractor as aging and decrepit as the farmer, both trying to make it through another season.
One such place is Serbia
These images are part of a larger project creating a visual chronicle of the farmers, shepherds and cheese makers of the Western Balkans, (specifically the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia) in the context of their natural environment. But, the true nature of this effort is not simply the documentation of these people, places and things but rather in telling the story of a disappearing time and place while hopefully encouraging recognition and perhaps development of tools to help save it.
The cheese room In contrast to the darkness and abundance of smells and odors in the barn, the cheese room is bright and spotlessly clean. The air here lightly perfumed with the tangy smell of brining cheese and a hint of bleach.
Draining off the surutka, the whey After the cows are milked the milk is heated, the rennet is added to cause the milk solids to coagulate. This material is then scooped into cheesecloth to allow the liquid, the whey, to drain off (and be fed to the pigs or consumed by humans for liver health.)
Stara Planina Kačkavalj or Old Mountain Cheese is found through out the eastern Balkans. This slightly hard yellowish cheese is aged for 6 months at a constant temperature and humidity. Throughout its aging process it is scraped and re-salted
Dotted throughout the mountainous region are these traditional barn structures. Typically a wooden frame over a stone foundation. The steeply pitched roof and deep eaves help to shed snow.