Buđola: Don’t be fooled!
One of the first things I noticed when I came to Croatia was that whether grilling, roasting, curing or smoking, Croats have incredible skill when it comes to preparing meat. I am consistently amazed by what appears to be an almost magical ability to make the flesh of one animal taste like that of another. A dear friend’s mother in Zdenčina makes a transcendent braised turkey with potato knödel that recalls roast pork, for example. Another fine example of this protein wizardry is the heavenly buđola.
A veritable marvel of Balkan charcuterie, buđola has the appearance and flavor of an exquisitely marbled, dry-cured and smoked beef loin, like a fatty version of Italy’s bresaola. No one would fault you for thinking that it was beef slowly melting away in your mouth, but the fact is that buđola is hog’s neck that has been boned, rolled and tied into loin shape, then cured, cold smoked and dried. Like pršut, kulen or other smoked and dried meats, it can be sliced and enjoyed on a sandwich. This will probably sound somewhat perverse to Croatian ears, but buđola could even be baked on a pizza or sauteed in a pasta or risotto. But the best way to enjoy it is directly from the fingertips with no accompaniment whatsoever. The deep smoke flavor and silky texture of the marbling will transport you to another realm.
As with most traditional food products, commercially mass produced buđola is vastly inferior to that which is produced on a family farm, from pigs who eat and live like fat royalty. Buy from a small butcher shop or, better yet, get to know some local folks, and someone will eventually offer you the family buđola that can’t be bought at any price.