Croatia has some of its food products protected at both a national and European level, their status designated by their unique place of origin. Meso 'z tiblice is one of them.
There is no direct translation to English for Meso 'z tiblice. Meat from the tiblica is closest, the tiblica being a distinct holding item in which this dish is traditionally stored. A centuries-old method of preserving meat, the tiblica was originally always made of wood. Even after modern refrigerators replaced the cold store, larder or pantry as a more-preferred place to keep food fresh, this dish has retained its popularity. This is explained by the unique flavours the preserving processes impart. In more modern times, you would occasionally see an enamel-covered metal tiblica having replaced the ages-old wooden variety.
This high calorie and quite salty dish has long helped sustain the people of Međimurje through the winter. Home-reared pigs were traditionally (and, in Croatia, are still) dispatched once the weather cools enough for the entire animal to be utilised. Sections of the pig which do not lend themselves well to preserving, such as some of the offal, are eaten immediately. Other parts are preserved in sausages like the paprika-flavoured kobasice or the more garlic-flavored češnjovke. Colder temperatures are essential in order to make the krvavice sausages that use the pig's blood. Lucky, then, that autumn and winter in Međimurje, which is located in the eastern part of Croatia's far north, can be significantly colder than elsewhere in the country. By preserving the meat in such a way, one pig can easily feed a family through the lean, colder months.
Some of the finest cuts of pork are reserved Meso 'z tiblice. So involved is the dish's preparation, it would be a wasteful use of time to do otherwise.
The premium pork cuts are first rubbed with garlic and salt, then left to cure for several weeks in the brine produced naturally by this salting. After curing, extra flavour is added by a further cooking process such as smoking. The meat must be cooled before being added to the tiblica. This gives the preparer opportunity to get ready the dish's other essential ingredient.
Elsewhere in Croatia, the word slanina is used for bacon. But, in Međimurje, the word is used to describe the creamy and flavoursome pig fat which traditionally edges such cuts. For Meso 'z tiblice, this pig fat is first cooked (usually by smoking), before being minced with bay leaves and peppercorns. Depending on the family recipe, other pork products, such as smoked pigs tongue or preserved sausage, can be found in Meso 'z tiblice. The fine cuts, flavoured fat and family favourites are then added to the tiblica, layer by layer, ensuring that no air remains between the ingredients of the tightly-packed concoction. As with every technique used in the process thus far, this specific and careful layering is essential in order to preserve the dish. The finished tiblica is then stored for a minimum of a month and a half in order for the flavour of the dish to mature.
Međimursko meso 'z tiblice is usually brought to the table in thick slices, alongside the pepper and bay leaf-flavoured fat. This fat is then spread on a rustic, homemade bread like sourdough before the slices of fine meat are placed atop. Meso 'z tiblice is served either as an appetizer or as a cold snack, commonly accompanied by sides of smoked or fresh cheese, sour cream and slices of uncooked onion, their sharpness cutting through the dish's indulgent fat content.
Click here to find out what European recognition does for Croatian produce and see all of Croatia's best delicacies which are protected