The story of Špin cheese begins and ends at stancija Špin, a sheep farm on the north-west coast of Istria in Tar near Poreč, only two kilometres away from the sea. The region has a long history of livestock and sheep raising so that it is only natural for this stancija estate to have specialised in sheep farming in the course of the 20th century. In the 1980s, Agrolaguna launched its sheep farming operation in order to produce and process milk at its own little cheese factory. At first, the dairy processed only the sheep’s milk from its own farm and produced around 10 tons of cheese per year. Later on, the company started purchasing sheep’s and cow’s milk from its partners from Istria. When the company joined The Agrokor Group in 2004, the factory started producing cow’s and mixed milk cheese, cheese with truffles and dry curd cottage cheese skuta, and the output reached 125 tons.
Today’s modern dairy farm flanks the traditional Istrian house Špin, a perfect illustration of the approach to the production of Špin cheese with modern technology complementing the wisdom of our century old dairy farming tradition.
This production and tourist complex was remodelled in 2013, with 35 million kunas invested in the reconstruction of the dairy farm and renovation of stancija Špin, refurbishment of a new tasting room and construction of the cheese trail that leads to the pastures surrounding the facilities.
The current annual output of the dairy farm is over 300 tons of cheese and 100 tons of dry curd cottage cheese, a continuation of traditional production. Our production range reflects the distinctive features of our climate and possibilities of a small boutique dairy farm, the ideal marriage between traditional products, local values and customs with state-of-the-art technology.
Stancija Špin is a place where tourists can visit the sheep farm, taste and buy the indigenous Istrian cheese and Vina Laguna wines – the best possible way of blending agricultural production and tourism, the two main branches of economy in Istria.
Istrian Cheese Špin continues the tradition of Sir Laguna. It recent years, it has been the recipient of a great many international awards.
Istrian Cheese Špin bears a unique signature of the Istrian soil, drawing out the very best from the Istrian climate. Istrian pasture lands where our darling cows and our darling sheep graze make the most of the vicinity of the Adriatic Sea that provides the sun, the salt and the inebriating grass fragrance, while the Mirna River and Mount Učka bring along frequent rains and mainland coolness. Stone is hard to find around here, there is only unspoiled soil with no industry around. Pasture biodiversity and a unique micro-location provide optimal conditions for dairy production.
Stancija Špin is surrounded by verdant pastures and forests reaching the Mirna Valley, once overgrown with macchia until flocks of goats grazed it and made it possible for the sheep to enjoy their vacation spot. The sheep now enjoy year-round grazing the underbrush and drinking from the pond at the entrance to the forest.
Stancija Špin is located in a peaceful and picturesque area of Istria, rich in a century-long cattle breeding tradition deeply rooted in this area’s identity.
The name Špin comes from whitethorn (Ital. biancospino, spino = thorn), thorny marshy scrub that grew around the swamp of the same name,one of the most important swamps in the Tar area. The area north of stancija Špin is called Finede, with Golaš situated in the north-east. The whole area is mainly barren land with a mire here and there, not much of a fertile soil, but excellent as pasture lands.
The quality of our pastures was well known as early as the thirteeth century when the ancient route was first mentioned. It went from the direction of Vižinada passing across Stancija Špin and descended all the way to Tar Bay.
The old Ćići, the people that inhabited the area around Ćićarija in the fifteenth century, used this path to take their flocks of sheep to the winter pasture where they would stay until springtime. Experienced stockbreeders, in whose veins flowed sheep breeding, knew that the grass on the plateau above the Mirna River was particularly lush and fragrant.
The nearby Tar Bay has always had the reputation of being rich in flora and fauna, and Tar cheese has been made since ancient times. Istrian Cheese Špin is based on the Tar cheese tradition and therefore continues the indigenous sheep’s milk cheese production.
Istrian cheeses Špin are natural products of Istrian cows and sheep shaped by human hands.
Agrolaguna owns around 2,000 sheep, of which 75% are the Istrian Pramenka Dairy Sheep, crossbred with the Sardinian Sheep (Pecora Sarda) and then with the East Friesian Sheep in order to increase milk production and the quality of meat. Pramenka prevails due to its resilience and its being accustomed to life in large flocks. We plan to reach the number of 2,500 sheep.
The sheep on our farm have a dream-come-true working environment. During the milking season their pastures extend over the area of 250 hectares on the south slopes of the Mirna Valley. The lactation season, when the sheep produce their valuable milk, lasts from mid-December to the end of August. After that, sheep eat less. In summer, they stay in the open air at night and in the stalls during the day and vice-versa in winter.
Feeding our sheep is a result of the Istrian soil in its most natural form. Pasture consists of clover and wild plants and the hay is kept as spare food in the days of drought. Luckily, there are many pastures in the woods, which are fresh all year round, to save the sheep from drought. Apart from that, they are fed oats, barley and some other cereals cultivated on their habitat fields. This is a closed feeding circle which ensures sustainable production.
We buy cow’s milk from our local partners from the upper and lower Buje area, all the way to Pula – Grožnjan, Savudrija, Nova Vas, Kukov Vrh, Kostanjevica, the Mirna Valley, Valtura. All our darling cows are fed naturally. The quality of milk and its production conditions are controlled on a regular basis. We don’t want to leave anything to chance.
Diligent little sheep and cows pasture the diverse Istrian vegetation and grass on endless pastures which is the reason Istrian cheeses Špin are made from top quality autochthonous ingredient. We take the freshly milked and cooled milk directly from our farm and our partners’ farms and deliver it to our dairy production site. Twenty-five thousand liters of cow’s milk and five thousand liters of sheep’s milk daily flow through the milking machines and over our hands.
The curdling begins after the pasteurization process is completed. The first step in making cheese, which turns into curd in a cauldron, is separating whey from cheese, followed by cutting and warming the curd. It is then put in the molds and, in no more than an hour, the squeeky cheese is obtained and precious whey is turned into skuta – delicious Istrian dry curd cottage cheese.
The curd is pressed in order to make our future product. Then, the young cheese is salted in brine during the next 24 hours, after which is it left to age. And then- the finishing touch. At this point, cheese is left in a drying chamber for five days, a whole month in the ante-aging room and another month in the aging room where all the moisture evaporates. Cheese maturation is done traditionally, on wooden boards – the natural surface that shares its best features with the cheese.
In the last phase, the trimmings. The aging is followed by rind brushing and coating the cheese with extra-virgin olive oil Ol Istria, just before the packing. Olive oil endows the cheese with a characteristic rind colour, keeps its specific aroma and protects it from drying out during storage time.