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Cuisine from both banks of the Mura

 

Slovenia’s northeasternmost region has always been renowned for its good homemade food and typical dishes. Pomurje, which the Mura River divides into Prekmurje, Štajerska and Prlekija, is practically home to agriculture and food production as it has exceptional natural resources – the highest number of sunny days in Slovenia, mineral-rich soil, volcanic sediments, as well as historical influences from neighbouring countries (Austria, Hungary and Croatia).

Cuisine is of great importance in this part of Slovenia. Although modernised, it stems from the local tradition, which is true both for the food that is genuinely domestic, cooked according to traditional recipes passed on from generation to generation, and for that which fuses the traditional with contemporary haute cuisine.

And it is here, among endless plains and hilly vineyards, that we find people – gourmet producers is what they are called – who have taken traditional recipes and local ingredients to a whole new level.

prekmurska gibanica
Gastronomic delights from the banks of the Mura river
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata film

Gourmet cuisine providers

These are food creatives that can each make the best that can be done in the region. Although they continue their family stories and preserve traditions, they follow modern trends and procedures, the wishes of their guests and their own ideas, setting trends and introducing innovations in Slovenia and far beyond its borders.

Their common ground is cuisine, quality and desire to show guests – those who not only come for a quick bite but also want to enjoy food and explore the tastes – something more. This was the reason why seven different gastronomic creators from the left and right banks of the Mura combined their top-range products into the common brand Gourmet over Mura. The goal is not to make people spend more money, but to do something more.

These producers supply incredible ingredients to the region’s top restaurants and other food industry representatives, such as Rajh, which is reviving traditional Prekmurje flavours in a modern way, the Šunkarna Kodila delicatessen with boutique production of top-quality meat products, Marof winery, which placed Slovenian Blue Frankish on the oenological pedestal, the internationally renowned Kocbek oil mill producing aromatic pumpkin seed oil, the Firbas homestead with local pear products, authentic cuisine and a five-star experience that includes exclusive sleeping in the hayloft, the Steyer winery with its fragrant Traminer, and the Bevog craft brewery.

prekmurske dobrote
Gourmet Over Mura treats
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata film

Preservation of culinary foundations

“We do not do shrimp and whiskeys but things typical of the region. We respect the regional traditions, such as pumpkin seed oil, Prekmurje gibanica (layer cake) and ham, so we are preserving its foundations, only at a new, top level,” is a simple explanation offered by the energetic Janko Kodila, director of Šunkarna Kodila.

Although they offer the best that can be found in the region, e.g. Krškopolje and Mangalica pigs, steaks, ham and cracklings, this is not enough in itself. In order to make superlative food from the best ingredients, they need to be understood, handled properly and grown with feeling.

domače žganje in gibanica
Layered cake "Prekmurje gibanica" and homemade brandy
Foto: Mitja Kobal, Karata film

Pass to the world of gourmet tastes

Providers operating under the Gourmet over Mura brand follow the principle of mutual promotion of gastronomic experiences, which means that they are not the exclusive buyers of the products of the partners involved but foster a symbiosis between them. Put simply – you can have a glass of Marof when dining at Rajh, but also much, much more.

Their business model is based on a tasting voucher targeting guests who want to explore top-level cuisine without having to “wander” the region seeking things to their taste. The brochure, a joint product of the providers, provides suggestions as well as schedules for savouring quality products.

The tasting voucher Gourmet over Mura is a kind of culinary pass that may be ordered online and redeemed at individual providers. We choose how many providers and which ones to visit (a price discount is also available for a larger number) and thus customise the gourmet trip around the destination. Although it depends on the time available, it is recommendable to devote a day to discovering the culinary heights of Prekmurje and another to exploring those of Prlekija.

Preparing homemade syrups at the Kodila restaurant

Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata film

Day 1: Culinary gems of Prekmurje

The tasting on the left bank of the Mura begins with gourmet charcuterie from first-class Prekmurje meats in Šunkarna Kodila in Markišavci, where our appetite is stirred on a tour of a new ham and meat drying facility built from reed and clay by the old principles. Here, under a traditional thatched roof, matures a true Prekmurje ham produced only from Prekmurje pigs, boneless, with noble mould and full taste, with the character and smell of beech wood smoke. The visit ends just at the right moment, when your desire is at its zenith. Waiting in the gourmet restaurant at the top of the Šunkarna is a gourmet plate with all of Kodila’s best and most characteristic flavours– Prekmurje ham, Mangalica pork, still warm home-rendered cracklings, pumpkin seed spread, and similar delicacies. All are free of nitrites and preservatives, only natural local ingredients such as pumpkin seeds are added.

Kodila meats
Janko Kodila
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata film

After a meal of cured meats, our route takes us to Marof in Mačkovci, Prekmurje’s currently most renowned wine cellar, which is especially appreciated for its exceptionally high-quality Blue Frankish, the Slovenia’s finest indigenous red variety. It is cared for by oenologist and winemaker Uroš Valcl, who says that their top wines are the result of terroir, namely soil containing a variety of minerals and a large number of sunny days, which gives the wine a special and recognisable character. Although Marof wines are mainstays on the wine lists at leading restaurants and wine bars on three continents, they are still produced following the family heritage, all procedures being very traditional. The must ferments spontaneously, without the addition of foreign yeasts, the wines are mostly matured in oak barrels and, before bottling, they are only homeopathically cleaned and gently filtered if necessary. Marof wines are refined and as such not targeted to the masses but to individuals with sophisticated tastes who appreciate their boutique character.

Marof Wine Cellar
Vineyard at Marof Wine Cellar
Photo: Marjan Močivnik, Marof Wine Cellar Archive

In Prekmurje, the exploration of top tastes cannot end differently than with dinner at Rajh in Bakovci, a restaurant with a long tradition and the Michelin Bib Gourmand award winner. The family inn enjoyed a renaissance when it was taken over by Tanja Pintarič. After culinary pampering in the form of a four-course menu, we do not only acquaint ourselves with the Prekmurje culinary tradition with an emphasis on local spices and ingredients in a modern guise, but also make friends with it. Dishes are lighter and more easily digestible than they used to be, but still feel homey enough to let us recognise the local tradition. Bograč goulash is finger-licking good, buckwheat bread is unforgettable, and the same is true for a plethora of other dishes, from langaš bread and bujta repa stew to veal liver and beef tongue. When traveling through the tastes, we cannot (and do not want to!) avoid Prekmurje gibanica, the most recognisable dessert in the region. It consists of layers of filo pastry separated by four fillings made from local ingredients: poppy seeds, cottage cheese, walnuts and apples. Prekmurje layer cake grew into a national culinary specialty. They say that there are as many recipes for it as there are cooks. Rajh impresses guests with its own interpretation – in the form of ice cream imbued with the Prekmurska gibanica flavour. This is a masterpiece respecting the tradition and ingredients from the region.

Day 2: A stroll through the tastes of Prlekija

The gourmet culinary trip along the right bank of the Mura begins in the Kocbek oil mill with pumpkins, which are without a doubt one of the most typical ingredients of the Pomurje region. An interesting fact is that among 825 species known in the world, only one is ripe for oil production, and that very sort grows in Pomurje. The realisation that we are in the oil mill that produced a unique bottle of pumpkin oil worth 350 euros, which is used for decorating dishes in the highest tower in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, causes quite an adrenaline rush. This oil mill is the only one practising cold pressing, where pumpkin seeds are not processed but completely natural oil is squeezed directly from the seeds with a special press at low temperatures. Cold pressed pumpkin seed oil can surprise the uninitiated, as its colour is distinctly green. It is almost identical to raw pumpkin seeds not only in colour but also in taste. The reason lies in a specific procedure that does not involve grinding, heating or roasting seeds. Gorazd Kocbek, head of the family oil mill in Slovenske Gorice, created one of the most recognisable brands of pumpkin seed oil in the world, used by renowned chefs such as Ana Roš, Tomaž Kavčič and Janez Bratovž, as well as in the kitchens of the best restaurants in the world.

Kocbek pumpkin oil
Kocbek pumpkin oil
Photo: Kocbek Oil Mill Archive

The path of exploring gourmet tastes takes us across the border, to Radkesburg in Austria, the origin of the top boutique Bevog beer, the fruit of Slovenian knowledge and ideas and a team led by Vasja Golar, a pioneer of craft brewing in Slovenia. The Bevog microbrewery is far from most people’s idea of a building producing craft beers with wacky illustrations on the label. Its stern and contemporary architectural design suggests a proper business behind its walls, which is only confirmed by the visit to the kitchen. The peak of the experience, however, is in tasting several boutique beers in the bar with a view to the production facilities. Tasting is more than an excellent idea in this case, as choosing between the seven types of beer available off the shelf and several seasonal hits offered on the market each year is far from easy. The main charm, however, is certainly in the taste of the beer made from premium-quality water that seeps through volcanic sediments. Bevog’s top-fermented beers, lagers and helles-style beers are undoubtedly part of Slovenian or Pomurje cuisine, although their taste is known throughout Europe and even in Thailand.

Bevog craft beer
Bevog craft beer
Photo: Nina Kurnik

The next tasting stop celebrates a wine that ranks among the gourmet flavours from the right bank of the Mura and comes from Steyer’s wine cellar in the village of Plitvica near Apače. Here you must try the fragrant Traminer, the flagship of the Steyer family, which is produced in all combinations, from dry to sweet, processed by barrique technology, orange, ice and Beerenauslese, into fragrant sparkling wine. The fragrant Traminer enchants aficionados at first sight with its intense golden colour and aromatic scent. What makes it so special? Danilo Steyer, winemaker and owner of the estate, says that the main “culprits” behind its excellence are the unique terroir of Radgonsko-Kapelske Gorice, which is particularly favourable to Traminer. The value is added in the next steps – for example, all grapes are picked by hand into smaller boxes, as this allows the wine to really retain all its potential for quality even later, in glasses. What happens during the wine production process is worth seeing, as Steyer’s wine cellar is known as one of the most modern in Slovenia. And although the Traminer is king, their cellars are also stocked with wines of other types, which are becoming a regular for lovers of fine wines in as many as 16 European countries, as well as in Japan, China and Israel, where Steyer’s wines have been exported for almost twenty years.

Steyer Winery
The Steyer Estate
Photo: Steyer Wines Archive

The gourmet journey through Pomurje ends with excellent cuisine at the Firbas homestead in Cogetinci, which is especially known for its – Firbas – pears and homemade pear products, from jams and 100% natural juices to real, home-distilled Williams pear brandy. Bojan Firbas explains that the people in this area were completely self-sufficient but a few decades ago: “They produced all the food themselves, on their home farms. Although the arrival of large shops and shopping centres changed this, the Firbas family still fosters this way of life, as what used to be a signal of the region’s poverty and poor development has become a mark of well sought-after prestige.” The homestead offers chicken eggs straight from the chicken coop, homemade meat from tünka (wooden vat where selected pork chops are covered with minced lard), fruit chips that we may still remember from the times of our grandmothers, and the famous Firbas or Slovenske Gorice gibanica cut into triangles, which the family matriarch Marjana makes by hand from filo pastry and cottage cheese. No less prestigious than authentic home cooking is sleeping in the hayloft above the barn, a unique and very comfortable experience enriched by the sounds of domestic animals downstairs, or a night bath in a wooden tub under the open, starry sky.

Although our research into gourmet tastes ended at Firbas, it might as well have started there – we could have made it a starting point for exploring the sights of Prekmurje or Prlekija.

Breakfast preparation at the Firbas Homestead

Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata film

Bright gourmet future of Pomurje

The fact that the attendance of the Gourmet over Mura event, which takes place every September, has grown from 100 to 1300 visitors in three years also testifies to the high level of cuisine in Pomurje and the success of the concept of linking its providers. The event is attended by haute cuisine creators from abroad, while those from the region are invited to events beyond the borders of their home region and country.

How to further enrich the region’s range of boutique gourmet products? Guests need accommodations to make their experience as carefree as possible. Therefore, the Gourmet over Mura providers have taken under their wing 19 local providers of boutique accommodation for more discerning guests, which are located between Ptuj and Maribor. They do not market them, but recommend them to their guests, and the accommodation providers do the same. Thus, Gourmet over Mura has been integrated into the region’s tourist services.

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