On Friday, May 20th 2016 Slow Food presented the project of the Pelješac Varenik Presidium at the Centre for Food Culture in Zagreb. The presentation was within the scope of ESSEDRA project promoted by Slow Food and financed by EU through the DG Enlargement. The participants to the press conference were Michele Rumiz, Slow Food coordinator for the Balkans, Ivo Kara-Pesic, President of the NGO Kinookus and Marijeta Čalić, Mario Bartulović, Ivan Miloš and Denis Bogoević-Marušić, initiators of the Presidium.
Ivo Kara-Pesic explained the main points of the four-year ESSEDRA project, its aims and obtained results pointing out the criteria Kinookus used for choosing varenik for the Presidium.
This product, said Ivo Kara-Pesic, has been chosen for the Presidium because it is strongly linked to the local culture, the landscape and the autochthonous vine cultivar Plavac Mali. In addition the new generation of wine producers from Peljesac strongly believe in economic and cultural potential of the product for the local community. Michele Rumiz spoke about reasons why Slow Food, the largest global movement for the protection of traditional agriculture and biodiversity, exists in Croatia as well as in the whole region. He also pointed out that certain Balkan countries have more farmers than Italy, Spain and France put together. To lose their products, their know-how and their skills would mean the disappearance of European agriculture, said Rumiz.
Marijeta Calic, the coordinator of the Presidium said that she was very happy to see that the young wine producers of Peljesac were grouping. She also explained to the numerous journalists present at the conference how varenik is produced, as well as the Slow Food philosophy of good, clean and fair food applied to this product. Ivan Milos put a special accent on the production of Plavac Mali, the preservation of traditional vineyards grown on terraces made of dry stone walls as well as the idea of multi centennial coexistence of the man and his local environment. Minor innovations that had been introduced in the production process were explained by Mario Bartulovic. He also mentioned the importance of such projects for keeping young people on their land, as well as the exceptional value that varenik has as a product and as an ingredient of the most famous dishes and cakes of Dubrovnik gastronomy. The last to speak was Denis Bogoevic-Marusic who presented the Presidium plans for the future and announced the upcoming presentations of varenik in Dubrovnik, Albania and Italy.
Varenik is a precious syrup obtained through the long process of boiling the highest quality must of the native Croatian Plavac Mali grape variety. The grape is grown by hand in the Pelješac landscape of traditional drywall terraces, and its colour varies from blood-like red to dark-caramel red; its taste is sweet and fruity with notes of honey and dark chocolate. Let us take a short look at history: ever since the 15th century, mantala – the queen of Dubrovnik sweets –- has been made from varenik, adding our almonds, orange peel and spices. Varenik is the most important ingredient of specialties like pašticada (a kind of stewed beef), “šporki” makaruli (“dirty” macaroni – a pasta dish), salad dressings and it is the “secret” ingredient of risottos, brodet (a Dalmatian fish chowder), game dishes and others.
Very few families still produce varenik, and it is impossible to find on the market. But a group of young local winegrowers, confident of the product’s economic and cultural potential for the local community, are seeking to revive its production. They are investing time and resources into increasing production and introducing small innovations to ensure high quality standards without betraying the traditional recipe.
The Presidium is working alongside these producers and its local partner Kinookus to draw up a production protocol that will combine tradition and innovation, and to promote varenik in Croatia and internationally. The Presidium has been established as part of the ESSEDRA project, co-funded by the European Union through DG Enlargement and promoted by Slow Food, which aims at supporting the process of integrating the Balkans and Turkey into Europe through a strengthening of civil society and its capacity to influence policies and promote sustainable rural development models.