Cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and curdled cream (kajmak) are not the only things one can make from milk. A dairy product commonly known as jardum, or grušavina, has been part of Montenegro’s tradition for centuries. The first name is part of the country’s Ottoman heritage, and is Turkish for ‘aid’ or ‘help’. The local word ‘grušavina’ comes from the verb ‘to curdle’, and offers a glimpse of how this beverage is made: the long process of cooking milk until it's thick and creamy.
“Jardum is a vitality elixir that could be termed ‘the Montenegrin Viagra,’” says Vasilije Labudović, an 88-year-old retired pharmacist who lives in the city of Berane, in northern Montenegro.
Labudović – who has spent years researching jardum and its medicinal properties, and has even written a book on the subject – explains that the product’s special value is evident from its Turkish name.
“What kind of help? Well, for men to keep and boost their sexual stamina, because it stimulates the function of the endocrine glands.
The [Ottoman] Turks knew this well and that’s why they had so many children. When jardum is properly made, men don’t need to use Viagra,” Labudović told Southeast Europe: People and Culture.
Labudović explained that the Šurašković and Radunović families, living on the slopes of the Turjak mountain between Berane and Rožaje, are among the few that still manufacture this special dairy product. The retired pharmacist believes that Montenegrin jardum should be trademarked and offered on foreign and domestic markets. Labudović points out that the product can be successfully canned. He won a prize when he presented jardum at an Italian food fair several years ago.
Jardum is mostly made from sheep milk, but must be produced at a specific time of the year – from mid summer until early fall – when the milk is thickest and of best quality, because the grass the sheep graze on is adequately ripe.
It is a custom among the people of northern Montenegro to make the year’s first jardum either on August 1 – which is St. Elijah’s Day in the Orthodox Christian tradition – or August 28 – i.e. Ascension of Our Lady – depending on the altitude of their pastures. The beverage is usually prepared in the so-called ‘katuns’, or summer settlements, located in mountain grasslands high above the villages.
There, in cottages of wood and stone, milk is transformed into cheese, kajmak and other treats, often above the open flames of a hearth, as wood stoves are rare. The often substantial quantities of milk are usually cooked in large copper cauldrons, while the products are stored in special wooden containers.
Jardum, in specific, is made from fresh sheep milk filtered through a fine, clean cotton gauze. The milk is then poured into a pot, lightly salted, and heated gradually, over a low fire. It is stirred constantly with a long wooden spoon, so it would not burn or boil over. The cooking takes quite a bit of time, and is finished when the milk has condensed enough to drip from the spoon like honey.
The essence of the procedure is to evaporate part of the milk’s water content, while the fat content remains the same. When the milk is sufficiently thick and creamy it is removed from the hearth and poured hot into another container – wooden is best – where it is left to cool naturally. As it cools, a crust of cream forms on the surface of the beverage. Cool and crusted, jardum is ready to serve.
While jardum is not offered as a course on its own, its richness and calorie count are best suited to a light meal. An optimal combination is one or at most two glasses of jardum, served with plain cornmeal, corn flour pasta, or dry bread. Too much jardum on an empty stomach might cause diarrhea, which is why the elixir is not recommended to people with poor digestion.
Due to the lengthy evaporation process, preparing any quantity of jardum requires a much larger quantity of milk to start with – the ratio is roughly two volumes of sheep milk for one volume of jardum. Alternatively, one may use sufficiently rich cow’s milk, but sheep milk jardum is considered the genuine product.
However, those inspired by this account of the ‘Montenegrin Viagra’ may be disappointed to learn that jardum is a product in short supply. Part of the reason is that Montenegrin womenfolk – in rural areas still mainly responsible for cooking – mostly shy away from the laborious task of preparing the elixir, additionally put off by the large quantities of milk required. Other reasons are the relatively short period during which jardum can be prepared, and the fact that the number of sheep herds in Montenegro’s highlands is diminishing year by year. While cow’s milk might seem like an acceptable and necessary alternative, those lucky enough to have tried jardum will testify that no substitute can compare to the original product.