Croatia has some of its food products protected at both a national and European level, their status designated by their unique place of origin. Zagorje turkey (Zagorski puran) is one of them.
Grappling to establish early its own culture, the relatively young country that is the United States is said to have assumed European holiday traditions by making roast turkey the centrepiece of a festive family meal. But, rather like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin successfully selling what was actually their own music back to them, Americans' appreciation of turkey actually predates that of the Europeans.
The bird comes from the northern Mexico area and what is now the south-eastern United States, where wild examples of this bird can still fly, albeit quite short distances. It's enough, though, to get them up into the tops of oak trees, where they like to sleep at night. Native Americans hunted and ate the bird at least 1000 years ago and it is turkey feathers that were most commonly used to stabilize their arrows and be worn, as part of ceremonial headdresses or other adornments. The spurs on the turkeys' legs were often crafted into arrowheads. The bird was domesticated in Mexico, then traded by Native Americans with Europeans who brought it back to their continent in the 16th century. It arrived in Croatia not long after.
The only native breed of turkey in Croatia is that which is farmed in the traditional Zagorje area, today's Krapina-Zagorje county and Varaždin county, north of the capital Zagreb. As noted in our coverage of this region's other protected food product, mlinci, Zagorje has an extraordinary landscape. Richly-green agricultural land, dotted with small villages and towns, occasionally divided by forest and, most spectacular of all, a range of impossibly-pretty hills which remind of old England or the vista J. R. R. Tolkien might have imagined when writing about The Shire in 'The Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings'. It is within the pastures of this landscape that Zagorje turkey live. They are never reared in cages.
The average weight of the male Zagorje turkey is 6 kg, the female 4 kg. Most often than not you’ll see a female served for holidays, not older than eight months as these yield the most tender meat. You really have to know what you're doing to cook a whole bird and retain the moisture throughout, but there are some tips that will help guarantee success; never buy an intensely farmed bird, buy something like a Zagorje turkey instead. Also, after roasting, the bird should be taken from the oven, covered in foil and left to rest for a minimum of 50% of the roasting time, at least until no steam at all is given off. In contrast to the USA, where the bird is more popular at Thanksgiving (Americans eat over 45 million of the birds on this holiday, twice as many than at Christmas or Easter), Croatians who treat themselves to a Zagorje turkey tend to reserve it for December's biggest day. Usually served with Zagorje mlinci and side dishes such as salads, few things are more evocative of Christmas Day than the smell of a freshly roasted Zagorje turkey wafting through the home.
Click here to find out what European recognition does for Croatian produce and see all of Croatia's best delicacies which are protected