Pepper and Izvarka Conserves

Milk and milk products - North Macedonia

In the area of Centar Zupa in the Debar region of central, western Macedonia, peppers preserved with izvarka cheese represent an important winter conserve. These conserves are made either by filling whole peppers with the izvarka (the most common method), or by mixing chopped peppers with izvarka, yogurt and a bit of salt. The ratio of peppers to cheese should be about 5:4. This product is usually produced in the months of September and October. Izvarka is a kind of cottage cheese made from whole milk. After mixing fresh milk with soured milk, draining off the whey and salting the cheese, the cheese is stored in jars and sealed with a 2 cm thick layer of melted sheep fat, to protect the cheese from spoiling. The peppers used in this product are yellow peppers from the areas of Bitola, Debar and Gostivar. They are opened at the top and the seeds removed and filled with the izvarka and a bit of yogurt and salt, then arranged in rows and layers, with the cheese and yogurt mixture between layers. These vats are stored in a cool place (at 10°C) for a period of 20 days. After this point, the conserves are ready for consumption. The pepper and izvarka conserves are not sold commercially, but made for personal or family use. They are an important local food source during winters. As a result of the increasing migration and emigration of the population from this region, especially of young people, many of the traditional dishes and products like pepper and izvarka conserves are disappearing. This "winter supply," historically prepared by women and young girls, is still present only in the villages of this Macedonian region. In other, more urban areas of the region, young people do not know about this product and many have never heard of it.