Maza e Çapres

Milk and milk products - Albania

Maza e çapres is an artisanal dairy product originally prepared in northern Albania. It uses cow, goat or sheep’s milk, or a mixture of all three. It is usually prepared during summer, when the animals give more milk, and consumed during the winter. In families, men tend to the animals while women process the milk. To make maza, every day after milking, women boil the milk. Once it has cooled, they separate the cream to conserve it with a bit of salt in a wooden barrel. Once the barrel is full, the cream is put in the skin of a lamb or a kid that has been slaughtered to eat for a feast day. The skin is dried, cleaned and stitched to create a container for the cream until the winter. It is important to leave the skin of the animal in a dry place so that the lack of humidity, together with the proprieties of the skin, can perfectly age the maza.   Maza e çapres is considered an important dish to serve during celebrations or to show hospitality. Cheese is considered a fundamental asset to be shared with guests to show respect and to confirm the honor of the house.  This product can be consumed alone or mixed with the nena (a plant in the nettle family). Nowadays it is also common to eat byrek me nene e me mazë (burek with nettle and mazë).   Pastoral life and livestock are important parts life in the Kelmend Alps, located in the northern part of the Republic of Albania, in the administrative territory of the Malësia e Madhe region, at the border with Montenegro. Its villages are located at varying altitudes between 200 and 1250 m above sea level. Each family lives off its own animals and soil, and the preparation of dairy products is considered to be an important part of the preparation for the hard and cold winter. The preparation of maza has deep roots in Albanian culture, dating back over 400 years.   Each family can produce between 10 and 15 kg of maza per year, depending on the quantity of milk they have. While this tradition continues in the higher villages, it is disappearing from those in lower parts of the valley. Maza e çapres is only made for consumption within the home and is at potential risk of disappearing for multiple reasons. Families, especially in the lower Kelmend area, are raising fewer and fewer animals in the Alps. Immigration to the United States and Italy also means that there are fewer people living in this area. However, the greatest threat is the fact that the preparation methods are changing; the custom of using lamb or kid skin is being replaced by the use of plastic containers that cannot eliminate all of the humidity like the animal skins do. This fundamentally changes the special taste of the cheese.