Strigle Cheese

Milk and milk products - North Macedonia

Traditional strigle is a local cheese that has been produced for centuries in the Maleshevo region, particularly in the villages of the Berovo area in eastern Macedonia, near the Bulgarian border. This area has vast meadows and pastures and the main local activity is raising livestock. This cheese is made with raw sheep’s milk from Ovchepolka Pramenka sheep. The name comes from the local term for the consistency of the cheese when the curd is crumbled by hand, after it is drained and before it is salted. To make strigle, milk is heated to 32-35 °C to curdle the cheese in one hour. The curds are broken and placed in cheesecloth and hung to drain off the whey for two to three hours. Then, the curd is broken up by hand and salted. At this stage, finely chopped and salted green peppers are added to the mixture. The finished product has a moisture content of 50-60%, making it very creamy. The finished cheese can be stored (historically in wooden containers, today in tin or plastic) and left to ripen for two to three weeks at 12-16°C before being consumed. Because fresh peppers are added, strigle has a relatively short shelf life of three to four months. Lactic, acidic and salty in taste, it is similar to white brined cheese, balanced with the taste of the peppers. Before the Balkan Wars, strigle was a well-known product on the cheese markets in Thessaloniki, where it was stored and sold in wooden kegs. In contrast, today it is present only on the local market in Berovo where it is sold in bulk. It is most often consumed as an appetizer, served along with rakija (a local alcoholic beverage). The sale of this traditional cheese is still main source of income for those who produce it, but the majority of the profits usually go to the retailer or processor. Current farmers are having difficulty in adapting to new sanitary and veterinary regulations, and sell their products on the “gray market.” In addition, a general decline in shepherding and traditional systems of grazing mean that raising livestock and making cheese are declining as practices, leading to a decline in strigle production.