It’s my goal in each country to take a cooking class. It is always an unforgettable experience – as much about culture and history as it is about food. Unfortunately it didnt happen in New Zealand, Seychelles or Bulgaria. But here in Croatia I’m back at it, and enjoyed last night an amazing cultural Croatian experience at the historic Agroturizam Kameni Dvori
Coming to Dubrovnik? Make this a priority. Definitely.
Our tour guide Marija with Dubrovnik Food Story picked me up right across the street from our Airbnb. I joined one other couple, Americans on their honeymoon from Dallas. We drove about 35 minutes into the hills outside of Dubrovnik, enjoying the scenic views along the way. Our destination Kameni Dvori in the village of Livorno in the Konovale region. This tiny part of Croatia is about ten minutes west of the border with Bosnia Herzegovina and 15 miles north of the border with Montenegro and is steeped in agricultural as well as border conflict history.
We were greeted on arrival by Katerina, one member of the 16 member family that lives on this site. The family Mojo can trace their ancestors in this very house back to 1536. Remarkable.
Katarina welcomed us with two kinds of homemade grappa, two kinds of homemade candy and dried figs followed by a brief tour of the main house which is now used for the cooking classes, a taverna and for dining for guests of the inn.
The massive open fireplace dwarfs the tiny kitchen where we headed next to make Turkish coffee. While we sat and enjoyed our coffee Katarina and Marija talked about some of the history of the house and the family. Then it was time to head to the garden.
Baskets in hand we proceeded to gather the fresh ingredients for our dinner picking tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, celery and parsley. Then we toured the rest of the garden where everything from laurel trees, figs,olives and pomegranates grow. We gathered eggs from the happy Croatian chickens and headed back to the kitchen.
First job was to get the fresh bread mixed and kneeded and set it to rise. Next we whipped a dozen egg whites to a lovely froth, added sugar and flour to prepare the traditional Croatian wedding cake called padispanj. While it baked we popped in to the car and drove to the next farm over where we milked a goat. My first milking experience! Thank goodness for a patient goat! It was fun, not too difficult and surprisingly warm!!
Milk pail in hand we thanked the neighbor and looked forward to the goat cheese we would be having at dinner thanks to her goats. Back to the kitchens we went where it was time to start the fire for the main attraction the Peka, traditional Croatian meat and potato dish . It takes an hour to get the coals hot enough in the fireplace so while the fire burned we prepared a vegetable soup with hand made gnocchi. Our gnocchi was not potatoe but made simply with egg, olive oil and semolina flour.
Next we sliced eggplant and zucchini dipped in corn flour and fried it golden brown on the stove, then let it sit on paper towels.
When the coals were ready the Peka was prepared – olive oil (produced on the farm) is poured into a large round and shallow pan. Into the pan goes veal, lamb, garlic, onion and salt. A layer of potatoes goes on top and then it is placed into the fire and covered with a giant steel “bell”. Ashes are placed all around to seal and then the bell is covered with coals. Now it bakes for 90 minutes. Oh the smell!
Peka is a complicated and time -consuming dish. Not something you would prepare everyday. It is for special occasions and unfortunately there is no “quickie” version. If you don’t have a giant fireplace you aren’t going to be making Peka.
While the Peka was on the fire we hiked up to the top of the property to survey the estate. Here you can see the entire valley and all the way to the Adriatic Sea. We learned more about the incredible history, including that during the 1991 war the Yugoslav Army occupied the village and the estate and the family fled into old Dubrovnik. Luckily the estate was not destroyed, although many things were stolen. Not everyone was so lucky.
Back to the kitchen and it was time for dinner. We first enjoyed grappa and figs as well as our own bread with olive tapenade, pickled peppers and cheese from our friendly goat. Next a beautiful selection of smoked meats they do on the farm and a different cheese from our goat as well as sliced fresh tomatoes and our fried eggplant and zucchini.
Next the Peka was served and it was incredible. The lamb so tender and the veal falling apart. Best potatoes I ever had. When our platter was empty and we were all full here comes another platter full! All of this washed down with both white and red wine made on the farm. Delicious.
We ended our Croatian feast with our light and airy cake with a cup of warm fresh goats milk and mint tea.
A remarkable experience. I felt very much a part of this family and their remarkable tradition and dedication to their culture and history- all while enjoying a spectacular meal based on sustainable farming and dedication to historical practices.
When you are in Dubrovnik, make this a priority. And anywhere you travel – slow down and embrace food as culture and history.