Tuesday, July 6

on the road again

It’s obviously been a long time since my last update. I’ll cut to the chase: it’s moving time again.

What a ride it has been to be back in Boston the last few years. Still, it’s not my kind of ride, and so I’m once again calling it quits. Join me as I make my way across the country in my trusty (so far!) diesel Jetta, soon to roll into beautiful Portland, Oregon. After a last-minute impromptu drive up to Montreal, then to New York, and back to Boston, I had about three days to finish packing and get the car loaded for the long trip. But who packs ahead of time anyway? I was certain I’d be fine. The reality turned out dirtier, sweatier, and much less straightforward.

Wednesday morning I crammed what remaining pots, pans, and plants would fit into the car. After a teary-eyed embrace with Sarah, I made a stop at my favorite bakery and was sent off with a hug and a big bag of pastries and breads. I picked up my sister come co-driver at Hartford’s airport, and we bee-lined it for western Pennsylvania, our first stop. Shiri, unable to drive my car’s standard transmission, made herself useful by researching our varied stops along the way using my handy well-connected computer. We slept in Johnstown, about an hour short of Fallingwater (the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house built over a river that I had meant to visit since 2001). Our clean Holiday Inn Express was right beside a KFC branch (mmm…), a beer store (which, thanks to PA law, sold only cases and kegs), and a depressing bar (which filled the beer shop’s gap by selling six-packs and singles of crappy domestic beer).

As we finished our long first day, two things became apparent despite our extensive ongoing research: a general lack of good and local non-chain food along the way (or at least no readily-available information on such eateries), and a severe dearth of biodiesel (along our route I wound up finding two stations that sold a paltry 20% blend of biodiesel, whereas around Boston there were several selling 100% renewable fuel, and in Portland there are predictably many more).

Monday, December 28

day of reckoning

Two weeks left to go in Belgrade, and it was time for the much-anticipated pig slaughter. Milutin had been feeding the pigs a diet of acorns, barley, and rye, for the two months leading up to the fateful Sunday, and I had hatched out a plan to turn all of the meat into various cured meats, sausages, and the like. I have slaughtered my share of chickens (maybe I should write about that sometime), and killed a few fish in my life, but I have had no experience participating in or watching the slaughter of a large mammal. I sketched out a rough map, we toasted with some herb-infused rakija, and we lit cigars; the next few hours would be in the trained hands of the butcher and his assistants.

surreal lighting at milutin's houseThe lighting for the morning event was surreal and perhaps prescient: fog-thickened still air, rays of sun bursting through silhouetted oaks. The trees were long since stripped of their seeds-come-forage, but this morning was unseasonably warm, despite my numb fingertips. The nearby geese heard Milutin’s offer of one of their carcasses; they seemingly wanted nothing of it.

the plan While I saw the butcher’s work on all three pigs, I witnessed the actual slaughter of only one. I will not make it out to be a beautiful thing to see. Put bluntly, it was rather difficult to watch. Instead of a relatively peaceful shot to the head in the pen, the butcher and his men wrestled with the pig to bring it out into the open for the kill. Stress, even just these few minutes, affects the flavor and texture of the meat and is to be avoided to the point of delaying a slaughter if a pig gets too spooked. It was all the sadder since this pig had heretofore lived a wonderful life on pasture and acorns.

When finally out in the yard, the pig was positioned, and a bullet fired into its skull. The death was instantaneous, though the convulsions lasted several minutes. As the heart continues to beat for several seconds, the carotid artery is quickly severed to drain the blood into a bowl. Next the carcass is scalded and rolled in hot water to facilitate removal of the outer layer of skin and hair. The men scrub until most of the hair is removed and then finish by burning off remaining hair and skin with a large propane torch. The pig is hoisted up from the branch of a tree, eviscerated, beheaded, and hacked in half lengthwise. Shoulders for coppa and sausage, loins for lonzino, jowls for guanciale, legs for prosciutto, belly for bacon, and remaining fatback for lardo. Hearts, lungs, and blood would make a blood sausage recipe I learned in France. Liver would combine with some extra belly to make a rich pâté.

mmm: lungs and liver and sleen, oh my! As the last of the parts were carried into the outhouse to continue to cool (this would be difficult today, as the sun had broken through the fog and it was 8C and rising), we headed up the hill to the home of Milutin’s parents-in-law for some offal goulash. The variety meats for this stew came from the first pig slaughtered earlier that morning. It quickly became clear why this stew is a slaughter day tradition: we were chilled from the cool air and famished from a lack of breakfast since we had awoken six hours earlier. It was hearty, well-spiced, fatty, and even for me some of the textures were somewhat difficult to handle. Still, I scarfed down several helpings. The ubiquitous cabbage salad, tangy with apple cider vinegar and seasoned only with salt and sunflower oil, was a great counterpoint to the rich goulash. We loaded up over 150kg of pig parts into the car, the bulk of work still ahead of me.

Thursday, December 17


When I was younger (much younger), I remember getting signed up for some summer classes at the Northridge Park community center. We’re talking twenty-plus years ago. I remember seeing other kids my age, shouting something (counting?) in unison, doing jumping jacks on tatami mats. They wore white robes. They were learning how to beat up other kids; kids like me, who were instead signed up for piano lessons with the overbearing old man. I reckon that overbearing old man was part of why I would eventually rebel against the ivory, giving up a bright future on my Yamaha keyboard.

Fair enough, I never got beat up, but it would have been so cool to earn a black belt. Whatever: I eventually blocked out the painful memories and picked up the alto saxophone, earning me the respect of all the babes in high school. Hell, I practically dated Winnie Cooper (sorry: perhaps an arcane reference)! I’m all growns up now and in Belgrade, and all but forgot about this episode of my life (well, the piano teacher/karate bit). And then Miloš told me about and invited me to the aikido classes he takes three times a week. As all the memories returned, a puddle of tears collected at my feet. I would earn my black belt, damnit, even if it is too late to regain my dignity. So I tagged along, ironically checking my dignity at the door.

Like most of my time in Belgrade, for every five minutes of instructions in Serbian I got an average 30 seconds’ translation. Still, as awkward as it was to try and join the routine, I got to rather enjoying the classes. I tried to pay for the class but (yes, you guessed it) my money was refused on the grounds of my visiting guest status. My favorite class was when we ran around the room (fast) for 20 minutes before proceeding to do all manner of squat-jumps, somersaults, and the like. I pushed my old out-of-shape body much too far and ended up barely limping home later that night—it was great to have such a thorough workout.

All went well until one class when my foot ended up under Miloš’s. No big deal. We switched sparring partners and then, long story short, my other foot’s big toe made an audible (to me, anyway) snap as his foot came down on it in an awkward way. It got pushed back and mildly fractured. I, expertly playing the part of wimp, buckled down in pain. I limped home that night and, between my toe and my increasingly-busy work schedule, never ended up making it back. Alas, my black belt would have to wait until my return to Boston…

Saturday, December 12

grilled tubes

“Tubes” are the best commonly understood translation of intestines between me and the cooks. When I need to stuff sausages, I must remember to ask for tubes, not casings or intestines. I have eaten my fair share of such things. Sausages: no problem. “Pig a**hole” in Chinatown: sure. Funky rolled-up lamb intestine stew at a nearby kafana: actually liked it. Tonight, though, I was stumped. Mirko and I, given that we will soon be parting ways, went out for dinner at the oldest restaurant in this part of the world. Named simply with a question mark “?,” it is known for its age and its traditional Serbian cuisine.

I pride myself for eating, or at least trying, anything and everything. So I was actually looking forward to the grilled “tubes” tonight (further down the digestive tract, these were not the thin things one stuffs with fresh sausage: these are thick-skinned, funky-smelling parts of the pig’s digestive tract. Upon first sniff, I knew it would be difficult. The first bite was even more succinct in its message: no way. I tried a second and a third time, with raw onion, with mustard, but to no avail: this was one dish I could not handle. The rest of the food was good: nice sauerkraut and piktija (pig head cheese, Serbian style), and decent “veal cooked under brick.” At the end of it all, while I dug through my pockets for cash, Mirko disappeared and settled the tab: it’s impossible to pay for anything in this country. Next time, perhaps (eating and paying, I suppose), for if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again…

Sunday, December 6

lightning round, nagar style (2/2)

Wednesday evening we drove to Novi Sad for part business dinner for Vlad, and part fun dinner out for us and his girlfriend, Jelena. Though it was technically a day early, we drank Beaujolais Nouveau along with a local equivalent: Portugizer. Both were equally drinkable, though nothing exciting, as is to be expected. After a long, drawn out dinner with few exceptional dishes, we drove to our cute bed and breakfast, a farmstead of sorts, called Salaš 137. Their main attraction at the Salaš is horseback riding and golf. As we arrived quite late, we went straight to our rooms: swelteringly hot thanks to the warm weather and wood-fired stove in each room, but really quite charming. The morning was another lazy one.

The reception lady asked if we’d like to ride horses, I was the sole taker: why not? After waiting around the horse track for the trainer for what seemed like forever, a man finally walked up with a horse. I should follow him, he indicated through pantomime and broken English. We went to the horse run behind the stables, not the horse track where others were riding. Fine, no problem by me, I wouldn’t have to look like a silly novice in front of strangers. I got on the horse, which is about when I realized the trainer must have been told I was a complete moron. He told me to hold on, and took the reins himself and walked the horse around the run a couple of times. We chatted about his fear of flying, and places he liked visiting in Europe. I asked him the name of the horse, Bellissima, and was about to ask if I could take the reins myself and show Bellissima what a real cowboy from the wild west can do. I never got the chance: as I began to speak, not five minutes into my horse ride for toddlers, the man told me to dismount and go back to the reception desk to pay for my ride. Wow—pay for what, I wondered… The reception lady was surprised to see me so soon, and asked if I’d seen the trainer. I told her about my ride, and she looked as mortified as I felt like a special needs child. Good times.

We high-tailed it back to Belgrade; we had tickets for the evening’s game between the two local basketball clubs: Partizan vs. Red Star. The two have a serious rivalry, and I wanted my family to experience sports enthusiasm at its height. We first ate dinner at Zaplet, and were waiting to leave for the game when I noticed on the downstairs TV that a game was on. Our game. Almost halftime. I have not been a model of punctuality in Serbia, and this evening was no exception. We quickly took a cab to the stadium. Only, the language barrier brought us to the wrong Partizan arena. I showed the driver the physical tickets, and we were again on our way. The driver asked if we’d been to a game, wanted to make sure we knew the dangers. Way to heighten the suspense… The suspense and anxiety were largely for naught: the Serbian church patriarch died days prior, and the funeral was the day of the game. Not only that, but fearing the worst of the fans, the game’s attendance was limited. Though our team lost, it was a good game. We sat between two friends who obviously rooted for opposite teams, at one point nearly ending up in the middle of a fight. Good times.

And that was that. They left as quickly as they came, and were enchanted by the country and its people: they already want to return. This place has that effect on people. In their place, they left goodies Vlad and I had ordered for the kitchen, including some of Taza Chocolates finest specimens (thanks go to my friend Alex for getting together the order on short notice—if you haven’t tried their stuff, you should: I’m willing to bet that it will pose a hefty and worthwhile challenge to your concept of chocolate). They left behind books, knives, and lots of love. A special thanks to all who made the week such a great time, most of whom will probably never read this.

Thursday, November 26

giving thanks

I was not planning on a cheesy Thanksgiving day post. Until it was cancelled earlier this week, I had planned to share the special occasion with some friends of Vladimir who spent years living (and raising their kids) in the US. I love Thanksgiving, even on those occasions that dysfunctional family relations come to a head (which for me have usually involved shouting-level arguments with my parents about Bush and their irrational support of the man and his policies), or on the rare occasion that I’m out cold before the party has really begun (though I really, terribly regret being unconscious for the spectacular party at my apartment in Queens, NY, three years ago). I enjoy the planning, sourcing, and cooking of the big feast. Most of all, I live for the point in the day when all the prep work is finished and I get to truly relax with friends and family. First with Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, now Thanksgiving, and next, Hanukkah, I’m spending so many big holidays (in my book) away from home.

I don’t really understand all the fuss about Thanksgiving wines: I find that good wine tastes good with just about anything (maybe that’s just the latent alcoholic in me), and besides, there are usually so many side dishes that the Yellowtail Shiraz Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais is bound to pair well with something. Really, though, I take it as the perfect annual opportunity to open that special wine that has been waiting patiently for the right meal: something to look forward in itself.

I enjoy the somewhat awkward pre-meal recounting of thanks, though I never know quite what to say until I’ve actually said it. Given that I’ve come to let this blog live freer and less-edited, the same applies here. I’m thankful first and foremost for my parents who brought me into this world and have wasted no chance in showing me the true meanings of support and unconditional love. For my sister, cousins, aunts, and uncles, who have unwittingly helped shape me into the self-righteous monster I have become. For my good friends, who have earned their titles with years of dedication, understanding, and loyalty. For my loves: past for the opportunities to learn, screw up, and move on; but present most of all, for loving me despite my ever more opinionated demeanor, and for allowing me this opportunity to explore, bearing with my long absence so patiently. For those terribly special people around the world who have slowly and systematically taught me new and ever more beautiful interpretations of hospitality. For those of you still reading despite this embarrassingly awkward post!

This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg: I have a lot I am thankful for. I hope all of you are enjoying yourselves tonight. Given that I will eat no turkey tonight, perhaps some of you will allow me to eat vicariously through your cameras? I can’t wait to hear about your latest Thanksgiving feast: bon appétit!

Tuesday, November 24

lightning round, nagar style (1/2)

I have had no time for writing of any kind this past week. Work gave way to my family’s arrival ten days ago, and I was destined for the role of tour guide extraordinaire. They arrived without their luggage, a frequent occurrence in these parts, it turns out. Their airline, however, was kind enough to give them some spending cash to compensate. Cash in-hand, with them I was finally able to explore some of the Serbia I have been too busy to see. Here is part I of a brief recap, to the best of my memory.

We spent the first couple of days getting acquainted with Belgrade proper: a trip to Kalamegdan fortress (a simply beautiful place to stroll around), a walk down the pedestrian-zoned downtown Knez Mihailova street (shop til you drop—literally: you’ll faint at the high prices on anything produced outside of Serbia), a visit to the Jewish History Museum (enlightening) followed by a look inside the only operating synagogue in Belgrade. The weather was highly cooperative—mostly sunny, usually warm enough to eschew heavy coats. We visited some new (to me) restaurants. For the sake of documentation, Lovac, a game restaurant, was largely a disappointment. Šaran, however, an old fish restaurant in the old neighborhood of Zemun, was great. Zaplet (where I work) was the overall favorite, my mom especially enjoying traditional food that reminded her of what she ate as a child in Israel.

Unable, at the last minute, to join us on a trip to Mokra Gora, Vladimir instead arranged for us be driven in a friend’s car. An amazingly generous and ridiculous gesture, an extremely polite man by the name of Ivan drove. Since Shiri, Viktor, and I had gone out late the night before, I was in and out of consciousness for the spectacular drive. The landscape was stunningly beautiful and we drove by numerous small towns and through thousands of acres of farmland. The trip was largely an excuse to relax and be away from the bustling city. We arrived and started a fire in our cozy wood cabin. We napped, ate, and talked about various business and investment ideas (typical Nagar conversation). It was nice to sleep a bit and we all enjoyed exploring the surroundings, hiking down the hill to a nearby village in search of a fabled farmers’ market we had been told to visit, but could not find. So we began the lazy return to Belgrade.

We stopped in Užice to visit its farmers’ market. There, we found some great kajmak and fresh goat cheese from a man selling a variety of dairy and smoked meats. We also stocked up on apples and pears, buying some homemade wine from the same woman. Yes, homemade wine, at an open-air market. Homemade wine sold in a variety of old soft drink bottles. Did I mention I love this country and its lack of regulations? Where else can you buy this kind of stuff? Onward, we stopped at a floating restaurant on the bank of a river. Old men fished from the restaurant’s patio and from nearby boats. Sadly, though the fish was ostensibly fresh, grilled really meant deep-fried to an overcooked dark brown. Indicative of the relaxed Serbian mentality, the wine I had ordered upon first sitting arrived toward the end of our hands-on fish eating contest. Since we were going to have the main course on down the road, we sent it back and got the check instead. The next place was a nondescript house marked with nothing but its address. Ivan heard about it from a friend who lived nearby, and it served only traditional Serbian style veal breast, slowly roasted. An excellent main course, though quite too much food, as usual. Judging by the shape of the car when we returned, Ivan managed to remain awake for the rest of the drive back; none of us were so successful.

Stay tuned for the second part of this exciting tale!

Monday, November 23

me shoot fire stick

I recently completed (and passed) a hunters’ education course (in NH) for the purpose of obtaining a hunting license. Passing the course means that I can legally buy a hunting license in any of the fifty United States. Your personal feelings on hunting aside, I think it can be sustainable and humane if practiced with care and by the rules. In any case, though I’ve shot handguns on multiple occasions (back in my gang-banging days with my uncle and cousin in Israel), and had to pass a too-easy test with a small rifle for this course, I’ve never used a shotgun. As I have no large freezer and hate waste, when I finally go hunting I will likely go for small fowl rather than larger animals.

When I spoke to Bata (Vladimir’s younger brother) about hunting, he suggested that I join them on their next trip to the shooting range. Excited I was, Yoda would say. So on Sunday I met with the brothers and Bata’s friend/colleague Sima for some trap shooting (shooting at clay pigeons with a shotgun). Upon meeting, Sima handed me a box of cartridges and told me I should play the part of the dumb American if we got stopped by the police. So, after picking up a ridiculously heavy breakfast to go, we embarked on the half-hour drive to a sports park outside of Belgrade.

Crammed into the back seat (as I typically am in this nation of taller and bigger people) of Bata’s car, I fueled up and worked on my game face. Inside the gun shop we loaded ammo into coat pockets, and borrowed a shotgun. We made our way through the misty rain to the range where Vlad and I were lectured about the basics of the task at hand: load the gun, get set, make a loud noise to trigger the release of the clay target, point (one points a shotgun with one’s body rather than aiming down the sights) and shoot (two shots per target), repeat. The important part, they told, was to keep the upper body locked so that the gun would aim wherever you turned your head, and to keep the butt of the gun pressed firmly into one’s shoulder. Yeah, yeah, I’m an American from the wild west town of Los Angeles Angeleeze—we’re born with six-shooters and get our first sawed-off shotgun as a Bar Mitzvah gift—I knew exactly what I was doing.

Bata and Vlad had poor first rounds, so it was time to show these brandy-sipping, gun-toting Serbs how an American handles a shotgun. While the instructor was off chatting with Sima, I made the embarrassing blunder of pushing the cartridges too far into the chambers, preventing the hinge-action gun from closing. I stood fumbling with the gun, trying to get the damned thing closed, until the instructor stopped me and pushed out the cartridges with a long wooden stick. This was not a good start. As the instructor readied the target system I asked another question, my voice triggering a target to needlessly fire—I’m sure they all had their doubts about this American by now. I became one with my weapon and lined up my line of sight with the barrel, my cheek against the cold gun.

I grunted, watched the target fly off and let out a first shot. Nothing. Miss with the first shot and the target is so far off that the second one usually contains more desperation than success. Not this cowboy: my target was destroyed by the second shot. I was on a roll, and hit the second and third targets. By the time I fired at my tenth (end of my first round), I had obliterated at least six fake pigeons. I would have eaten well. Still, the instructor made the note that I was aiming the gun rather than instinctively pointing it, and it was obvious to me by my bruised shoulder that I’d have to work on keeping the butt of the weapon more snugly against my shoulder in the future. Still, I’m glad to see that I might actually have a chance of survival in the wilderness on a diet of shotgun cartridges.

Tuesday, November 10

butchering buša

Though I have experience butchering small livestock, before last week I had never really done any in-depth butchery with beef or veal. Last month, knowing that we would have the opportunity to work with less common animals such as Mangalitsa pigs and Buša cows, I sought out advice on the best uses for their various parts. Mangalitsa pigs turned out to be well-documented thanks in large part to Heath’s efforts at Wooly Pigs’ in Washington state. Buša cows are another story entirely—searching several permutations of the name turned up next to nothing, besides some very basic technical information about the breed. At one point, though, I found an email address for a man named Zoran, listed as the Buša breeding contact in Serbia. I wasted no time getting in touch with him, and he was quick to respond to my inquiries. Not only did he give me further information about the Buša cows, but it turns out he raises Mangalitsa pigs as well.

It seems that Buša were traditionally raised by subsistence farmers in the mountains where the milk, rather than the meat, was the primary product. As such, the cows would typically be slaughtered at an age approaching 15 years—resulting in meat more suitable to braises and stews than anything else. In any case, Zoran promised to be in touch when the time approached to slaughter one of his animals.

Last week, as promised, he wrote me of a Friday slaughter of his Buša bull, 1.5 years old. I quickly replied, and we agreed that Vlad and I would drive out to their town of Vršac to see whatever we could. As the slaughter was early in the morning, we skipped it and instead drove straight to his house, where we were invited in to meet his beautiful family as well as his butcher of 50 years’ experience. This was indeed a family affair, attended by his wife and two engaging children, as well as his mother and father. The butcher, in a fashion I’ve never before experienced, had meat spread out across the wooden dining table, using a small cutting board to do the work.

I cannot say enough good things about the experience. It just struck me as the right way to approach the meat we eat. Here were two young kids, playing with the bones, watching the butcher at work, and helping to take the meat upstairs (where it would be laid out on the floor to rest overnight before being frozen or further processed/cooked the next day). Zoran gave us tastes of his friend’s acacia honey, his father’s two year old bacon, the last of the season local grapes, some grassy fresh goat cheese, and his own unfiltered apple cider. Zoran’s wife, a physician, told us of the healthy nature of the Buša’s omega-rich fats, pointing out bone marrow (love it) and fatty cuts, mentioning the liver as especially beneficial to the kids, with its concentration of iron and vitamins. The event seemed straight out of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (I recently finished reading it).

While we came for ideas in using the veal we had at Zaplet, we left instead with a warm fuzzy optimistic feeling about family and life. And death: the butcher went on to show us how he kills the animals, with a purposefully-designed gun made by none other than F. Dick, better known for their utilitarian knives. We had to run back to Belgrade before the family had a chance to put me to use in the kitchen, but they have an open invitation at Zaplet. I look forward to our next encounter, and hope that I can provide as well for my future kids.

Monday, November 9

nice hams

Sunday night I went for a ‘quick drink’ with Viktor, and almost made it out of Scandal by 1:30. Viktor said ‘one more,’ and I took the bait. Having finished, the server delivered another round, this time on the house. Again, we drank and almost exited, but the Karaoke band said they’d sing another song before calling it quits for the night, and so we of course stayed. Once again, I found myself falling asleep at 4:00, usually not a problem on a Sunday night. I had to meet Vlad at nine, though—we had an excursion planned to visit one of Serbia’s best Prosciutto makers.

Zombie-like, I trudged up the street to our rendezvous point. I, the dwarf American, moved quickly to the back seat when we picked up Vlad’s friend Dragan, a former basketball star—even in the front seat, his knees were up against the dashboard. We chatted and talked about the sights on the way. About halfway through our drive we stopped at a café on the road. Inside was a scene out of an old detective movie, sunlight pouring through thick, smoky air atop red-checkered tablecloths. The large space was occupied by but three old men passing the time. One of them got up and took our order, hot tea for me. Our drinks arrived, and I sipped my Serbian tea—Vladimir had modified my order. No, the Serbs don’t grow tea high up in their mountains; Serbian tea is hot sweetened Šlivovic (plum brandy). Still before noon and slightly buzzed, I picked up a few fallen pears by a well-endowed tree—they’d make good post pork snacks.

We were met by a lead car for the last confusing yet beautiful countryside stretch of road to Mirko’s pršut (prosciutto) plant. The building that houses the prosciutto works is quaint and sparse. We were led on a tour through the wing where the magic happens, up on rafters above the ground floor where a fire pit is used for some gentle smoking a few days each year. Mirko hails from the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, where he first learned his craft in a much more Italian tradition. He searched long and hard for land with just the right year-round breeze and climate, settling finally in the hills of Cajetina. The clean country air rarely climbs above 20°C, making it an ideal spot for this venture.

The extent of our hours-long stay at the house that was translated to English can be summed up in this one paragraph; I did ask lots of questions, but Serbs love to talk, so by the time my question received a long-winded answer, it was either forgotten or just lost in the transition to a tangent. The hams are first salted for several days before being rinsed and again salted, this time pressed between layers of wooden planks for several weeks. They are then finally hung up to begin the two-year drying process, with the occasional waft of smoke (most Serbian pršut is very heavily smoked) and a constant breeze through the windows. They get coated with chalk dust in three monthly stages beginning in April of their first year, first the area where exposed bone meets meat, followed by where skin meets meat, and then finally coating the entirety of the ham. When ready for consumption they are rinsed of the protective coating and packaged as required.

Mirko, at the behest of the German laboratory who tested his products, has begun to experiment with hams that are not smoked at all, and is slowly phasing out smoked products altogether. Still, even his smoked pršut is hardly so. We were invited to sit down to a tasting of all his products, beginning with the obligatory brandy before moving on to a homemade entirely refreshing white wine. Ravenous, we travelers dined with vigor hardly surpassed even by the fabled Oliver Twist. The prosciutto was well-made, but salty to a fault. The pancetta (cured bacon, really), however, was on point and worth every calorie. The culin (a regional smoked sausage spiced with paprika and rather similar to Spain’s chorizo) was very good, though might have actually benefited from some of the ham’s extra salt.

We nearly ate the platter bare before Mirko quietly snuck out to slice another entirely unnecessary round. We broke out more wine to accompany the excess meat, and satiated quickly went the way of bursting. I, frustrated by my lack of ability to understand more than the occasional word, took to the wine with gusto to be sure to completely dehydrate my over- yet still malnourished body. The wine coupled with my lack of rest culminated in my neck going floppy for the three hour ride to Belgrade. Though I slept the whole way, my neck was sore from all the turns. The illness I felt was reminiscent of my binge on wild plums at Crozefond years ago, though this one was decidedly less healthy-feeling. Killer pigs reigned in my dreams that night.