Three elements are necessary to make the rare delicacy known as Cherni Vit green cheese: the milk of local sheep, a wooden container, and the distinct moist air of its namesake Bulgarian village in the Balkan Mountains.
Shepherds in Cherni Vit have been making sheep’s milk cheese for centuries, but they haven’t always coveted its now-famous coating. After soaking in brine-filled wooden barrels (it must be wood; plastic containers don’t produce the same effect), the cheese naturally develops a blue-green mold once it’s exposed to air. Originally, many thought this meant the cheese had gone bad, so they scraped off the mold or discarded the cheese entirely. Over time, however, villagers developed a taste for the cheese, whose flavor starts as somewhat sharp and nutty, then intensifies as it matures. It becomes sharpest at about one year old.
In the late 20th century, Cherni Vit cheese almost became extinct. Shepherds who knew how to make the unique cheese were dying and no new cheesemakers were taking up the practice. But in the 2000s, representatives from the Slow Food Foundation helped to revive the endangered delicacy. Even the mayor of Cherni Vit tried his hand at making the village’s specialty. Today, there are a few places in the village where you can sample the cheese. However, due to current EU regulations that prevent direct sale from small farms, it is not commercially sold.
Need to Know
The cheese itself is not always green, as the name would suggest; the color, like the flavor, changes as it matures.