Iće i piće

NO 42, April 2015

Traditional cuisine:

Exotic Domestic Field to Table

Jelena Ivanišević

Photos: Damir Fabijanić

Today at a time of nostalgic return to the simple foods of mum and grandma, a time when it is easier to buy aceto balsamico than vinegar, being modern means buying and eating domestic. The retro wave, because of which at prime time you get roux soup being made on a local TV station, has changed the list of desired nibblers. What in the eighties English tea or smuggled brie and saffron first from Trieste and then from Graz were handmade tagliatelle, cheese and cream, smoked belly bacon and pork renderings from the nearby family farm shop are now. Among the good things that have got a name that today reflect the desires and fears of eaters is basa – fresh, soft, original cheese from Lika.

Simple basa is the expression of the region in which it is made, of the complex relations between people and nature. The story of basa, which according to the informants takes place between us and them, starts with the buša, that modest and hardy shorthorn that for centuries was the only bovine tough and resistant enough to survive in the inhospitable nature of Lika and other hill and mountain regions. The rich (6% fat) milk of the undemanding and adaptable buša lies at the core of rural food; yet this did not save it from being on the verge of extinction. And if we were capable of working strategically and make use of the gastronomisation of culture as the basis of sustainable development, the success and survival story of the boškarin (Istrian long-horned Podolian type of cattle) could be repeated with the buša. Why shouldn’t, let’s say, the existing dairy and cheesery in Otočac not specialise in the making of indigenous cheeses from Lika (škripavac – squeaky cheese, and basa)? Such a cheesery would bring together the existing breeders who would guarantee the home-produced raw material for basa and škripavac. Then one could consider protecting geographical origin and authenticity, which the combination of the plant communities of the Lika meadows and the Lika landraces would absolutely enable. The chain from field to (tourist) table could thus be closed and support itself.

Mouth to mouth
Like most domestic recipes, basa is made in different ways in the various parts of Lika. In the surrounds of Gospić it’s made in wooden vats, into which every day new cooked-through and cooled milk is added, after a certain time starting to curdle. In other parts of Lika basa is made from separated milk (with the butter floating on the surface), to which soured milk from the previous day is added. The soured milk is then strained in a cloth, and mixed up with fresh sheep’s milk or cream. In Smiljan and surrounds the boiled milk has sour milk added to it, and the ready cheese is mixed with top of the milk. The differences in the recipes tell of the importance of basa in traditional food in Lika, for it is a fact that the more versions of a recipe there are, the more vital some food is. It is those dishes that anyone’s and everyone’s mum or gran makes best that are the most memorable, foods that every family has a personal touch with.

Recipes circulate by word of mouth, going down from generation to generation, changing in time, like the recipes for basa from yoghurt that go round the internet, so the history of basa stays in the story. According to some basa has always been made everywhere, but according to some the technology of making basa was first developed among the local Orthodox folk. Basa did not derive from any great concern for the milk or the cheese, precisely the opposite. Basa, as they tell us in Smiljan, stemmed out of choosing the easiest way. Negligence and spontaneous curdling of the milk are the beginning of today’s basa. But this soft cheese did not maintain its alleged differential marking among the Lika population. In time the production of basa spread everywhere and became part of the tradition, because it’s simply so good. The only difference is in the language in which Likan hospitality is expressed, two dialectal words for eat (poje and i) and basa as the object. Both are an invitation to share this lovely, creamy fresh cheese with a geographical origin signed by tradition.


cow’s milk
sour milk
  1. Strain cow’s milk through muslin, so it’s clean. Put it into a big pot, and then on the range to boil.
  2. When it’s cooked through, move it to the edge of the range to rest.
  3. After it’s stood, cool it down half an hour or so.
  4. When it’s still warm, put in sour milk and a bit of salt. Mix well, cover, wrap, and let it stand in a warm place. Then cool outside before it’s put in the fridge. If it curdles in the morning, let it stand till evening.
  5. Check to see if it has stiffened, and if it has, drain off the cream and wrap the basa in a cloth and let it drip.
  6. Put the ready basa into a bowl, pour the cream over, and mix well. Great with bread, potato, as appetiser or accompaniment. (As told by Katica Franić of Gospić)

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