Touch Brac

Dol, an old village on Brac: was first recorded in 1337 in church books. Vineyards interchanging with olive groves across island slopes neatly furnished by human hand, the scent of the sea, pine trees and aromatic plants suggest our location Mediterranean. Soon our clothes absorb that fresh fragrance following us around. Nowadays Dol has 110 inhabitants living in some 100 houses, working in other local villages and spending their free time in their olive groves and vineyards. If you ask me, Dol is the cradle of this island, a result of hard work, sweat, and love, holding inside the value and greatness of Brac. Time stands still in Dol. Old stone houses leaning against each other lined up along the edge of the hill, following the line of the steep carved with caves that used to host life in Dol. Photographer Ivo Pervan and l found a nice spot under the flourishing kiwi shed of the local tavern ‘Toni’. The table next to us was feasting on Brac lamb seducing us with good food smell. We ordered lamb soup with a domestic rooster. The tasty and healthy soup called for more. We completed our lunch with fried Mediterranean sand smelt and a bowl of Brac cherries, this year's domestic first comers.

We came to Dol just to visit Gospodnetic family that shall introduce us with old Brat delicacy: hrapocusa - a tasty pastry, people from Dol call cake, a symbol of this part of the island. It was named after rough rocks that can be seen on all old Dol houses. Mrs Gospodnetic started preparing the cake. Homegrown eggs, everything from scratch, respecting the traditional rules of preparing this delicacy. Delightful aroma travelling from the kitchen bestirred us from the past and stories grandpa Frane was sharing with us. The cake layer is in the oven. The cream is almost finished - walnuts, sugar and whipped egg whites, vanillin sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice just picked from the tree. The cream comes on the top of the yellow crusted cake layer. While l was observing the cream roughly smeared on top of the cake layer l realised the origin of its name - Hrapocusa (rough cake). The surface of the cake looks rough reminding of the rough mountain massive observed from a distance. The cake was melting in my mouth, and every bite was a revelation for my senses recognising ingredients l have witnessed. We enjoyed this moment of genuine creation. This was a presentation of genuine traditional island cuisine, which has survived and played along with time, of course, thanks to the human element. As the first sunbeams have touched the Earth, we reached part of the island belonging to sheep breeders. We arranged a visit with Jaksic family from Selca village. Their estate is located outside the village on a hill offering a splendid view on Biokovo, the island of Hvar, and distant Stone bay. Meticulously furnished terrain surrounded by dry-stone walls hosting yellow flowers of broom certainly drew our attention. This is the part of the island well known for sheep breeding. We are here to taste genuine food, witness the preparation process and enjoy the exquisite taste of it. The only spice is coarse sea salt. Other spices come from sheep grazing aromatic plants of the pasture grounds - meat grown on aromatic plants. Today the hosts shall prepare ‘cannibal’ food. The one Brac shepherds used to eat treasuring the rule Brac people are famous for: everything has to be used wisely. Vitalac and sheep stomach are on the menu today. Those who cannot watch blood and raw meat handled roughly should wait for the readymade meal. Chopped pieces of bowels are speared on an iron spit-roasted over the open fire for 45 minutes.

When almost finished meat is wrapped up in lamb lungs entwined by lamb intestines. Salted again the whole package goes over the open fire again until lungs and intestines become crispy and vitalac becomes golden brown. On this part of Brat, where sheep have been traditionally bred, only young lambs that haven't tasted grass are used for the preparation of vitalac. It is served hot and eaten instantly. Timing is important in order to sense all food ingredients. It is recommended to eat directly from the spit, usually with two slices of bread soaking up fat draining from the spit. Meat pieces are served on a wood tray and eaten with hands. The crispy and salty taste of the wrap is blended with a taste of the bowels composed of different ingredients: lamb liver, lungs and kidneys, representing the most genuine and original taste of Brac. Simultaneously while preparing vitalac, amazingly simple Brac meal is also prepared, cooked lamb stomach. In a pot with salt water washed lamb stomach is placed, two peeled onions and a few lamb legs. When the stomach is cooked, it is taken out on a wooden dish, cut into chunks and salted with coarse sea salt. For those who like it, it is a nutritious brunch. Prefer lamb tripes prepared with tasty Brat potatoes. And as they say, the best is saved for last, so we have saved our encounter with sheep and shepherds for the end of our Brac gastro-tour. We set our course direction west, Sutivan, and then headed along rocky road towards the slopes of the hill, walked between olive groves across pasture grounds of a farm where milking of sheep takes place in the morning and evening. The name of the farm is Gornji Dolac, and owners hold around 90 sheep of the pramenka breed.

Cheese production has been preserved here for centuries. It is hard work; people taking care of sheep do not have time for holidays. I am trying to comprehend the life of Brac shepherds. Not only taking care of sheep but also the art of making cheese. The method is traditional. Sheep were waiting to be milked, pressed tightly together, creating with their bodies one firm surface resembling a wool carpet. Two shepherds, father and son, according to their standard procedure, pulled each sheep by their back legs in order to yank them out of the packed flock. With firm grab, they forced milk out of sheep udder to run into a bowl between their feet. The milked sheep would go back into the packed flock of wool mass, leaving that spot for the next sheep to be milked. Evening milking resulted in fifty litres of milk. Shepherds let the sheep go out on the pasture grounds, while they wash their hands, making the final steps of the long and hard day.

Milk is delivered to the dairy where cheese production starts. It is routine work for them, adopted at an early age. Milk is heated to 32 degrees, no pasteurisation. When coagulated, it is whipped for 10 minutes and heated to 42 degrees, then left to rest for 5-6 minutes, after that stirred and poured into cloth wrapping, shaped by hands, pressed under heavyweight and then starts the process of changing cloth wraps 10 times a day. Cheese is kept for 24 hours in a pot and preserved in brine for 24 hours. To produce hard cheese drying process lasts for 2 months. The whole production gives 6 kilos of cheese sold solely at home. This is what l have found out on cheese production subject from my hosts. Some questions were answered only with a smile; of course, every business has its secrets. The cheese indulges my taste buds. We also savoured cottage cheese that rested only 45 days. Our gusto sensed a genuine homemade product (no additional ingredients). It was produced by people who grasp cheese production as pride and honour, not just pure business. The glow in their eyes revealed that attitude to us. Sheep and cheese mean more to them than just means of survival. I could not help it, so l asked if they had some curd, my favourite dairy product. Curd is soft cottage cheese, white, round, mouth melting. Lucky me, they had some! Curd requires a different milk production process. No coagulation, no over boiling. Blessed be the sheep! This island is a home to some twenty thousand sheep, out of which a thousand and five hundred are milking sheep. Brac sheep are mostly bred for lamb and well know for pasture grounds rich in sage and other aromatic plants, enriching Brac lamb meat. As much as I enjoy roasted Brac lamb with spring onion, my thoughts are with Brac? Sheep were patiently giving their masters a litre of milk per clay. Without these, my Brac gastro pleasure would not be divine: Brac curd. These short encounters have provided me with proof this island treasures splendour cuisine holding Brac and its tradition in its heart. People are an essential element of this fascinating cuisine, creating food as for themselves so for others as well. Today they are willing to share it with those who appreciate such and wish to be a part of the tradition that has structured and influenced island life. Brac is a destination that provides a gastro world with enriching cuisine, based on a tradition that has formed people, their lives, and for centuries has been meeting their needs. Genuine, rich with pleasures, as Brac itself, with its hard-working islanders.