Our first encounter with Malta’s revered honey was destined to offer a bittersweet lesson.
At a Christmas market in the Mediterranean country’s capital city, Valletta, we first met third-generation beekeeper and retired science teacher, Michael Muscat. On that chilly evening, girls dressed in holiday hues sang familiar Christmas tunes, peppered with Maltese lyrics. Politicians delivered their Christmas speeches in the open air, and I shook the country’s president’s hand three times. (She was making the rounds throughout the crowd, Shawn and I were moving about as well, thus the comical trio of salutations.) Inside an adjacent tent, vendors sold everything from handmade jewelry, to carob-infused wine, to candles. And as we edged towards the booth operated by Michael and his wife Mary, they literally had their last jar of honey in hand.
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One of our favorite aspects of Bulgaria’s tasty cuisine is its yogurt, which is appreciated worldwide due to its health benefits and creamy texture. In Kalofer, a village nestled in the mountains of central Bulgaria, our wonderful hosts, Tony and Stefan, taught us how to make yogurt (Кисело мляко, or kiselo mlyako). The couple’s infant son, Iliya, also lent enthusiasm, in this sleepy town where it’s not uncommon to see sheep, goats, and cows freely grazing among the half-timbered brick barns and wildflowers.
It’s believed that the people of the Balkans have been making yogurt for more than three millennia. Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, the bacteria responsible for making Bulgaria’s prized yogurt, is appreciated as far away as Japan and China. Bulgarian yogurt dominates about 60% of the Japanese market and many believe that the yogurt is rich in probiotics (good bacteria), which aid in digestion.
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In Croatia’s Dalmatia region, the people are warm, engaging, and generous with invitations to share a shot of rakia, a plate of pršut (dry-cured ham) or a hearty peka meal. Our Dalmatian friends are no different, and in the past weeks they’ve been keeping us entertained with things to do in Split. Let’s just say that Croatian food and wine have been featuring prominently on the agenda.
One Sunday afternoon, we met our friends, Srđan and Jakša, in a cluster of seven towns next to Split called Kaštela. Although it was late morning, a few fishermen were still out on the bay. Jakša’s friend had recently delivered a fresh catch of seafood to Jakša’s seaside home and business. We would grill the fish later in the afternoon at Jakša’s vineyard cottage, 400 meters above the steel-grey Adriatic Sea.
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