Cultural heritage

Family stories based on real events from the long history of the Gavrilović family.

A Bit of Italy in Petrinja Salamis

In the collective euphoria over our acceptance into the European Community, whereby we are often split between Europhiles and Europhobes, it appears that the most peaceable voices are those who, albeit reservedly, keep saying how Croats were always a part of Europe. Were we really?

To be honest, in the past, only individuals or small groups were able to uphold high European standards, and the Gavrilović Company was one of these groups. One proof was that for years Gavrilović’s products could be found on the shelves of shops in many European cities. However, another even more important example was the large number of Italians who were involved in the meat-making process. From the end of the 19th century, all the way up to the 1960s, Italians from Udine1, in northern Italy, offered their experience, knowledge and effort in the creation of Petrinja’s tasty salamis.

The first person to consult with the Italian meat-masters was Mato Gavrilović Senior, at the end of the 19th century. It was during this time that foreigners frequented Zagreb and left their traces behind. One of them was the Italian Pietro Coronelli; a dance-master who opened up the first school of dance and etiquette in Zagreb. Another important figure was the architect Herman Bolle2 from Germany. He came to Zagreb after the catastrophic earthquake of 1880 and transformed the city into one large construction site. And what can be sweeter than a taste of Gavrilović’s salami after a dance class or a day spent rebuilding a city! The salamis were especially attractive to those who knew that Mato, the boss, invited the best Italian experts to assist in the salami business. Those were men with experience in the production of special types of salamis and mortadellas – traditional goods from Udine and the whole Furlania Region. With the assistance of the Italians, Gavrilović was bringing his acquired knowledge and experience to a higher level.

Young and bright successors Stjepan, Mate and Gjuro continue the tradition and sought advice from meat-masters from the same region in Italy. Two men from the first wave of Italian meat families – the Cossio and Cimbaro families – left the most influential trail. Both of these salami experts were succeeded by their sons and grandsons as Salami Masters in the salami section of the Petrinja factory.

In those days, a total of fifty pigs were processed in the factory on a daily basis. With the support of the skilled Italian masters, the young and hard-working Gavrilović brothers received many awards and praises for their Zimska, Croatian, and Army Salamis – not only in Croatia, but throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well. After their great success at international exhibits in Zagreb and Vienna, an American company became interested in the Gavrilović business. Representatives from this Chicago-based American meat company, known world-wide, offered the oldest Gavrilović brother, Stjepan, a position in their company. He refused their offer, naturally, because at that time the Gavrilović Company was flourishing and apart from countries within the Empire, exported its goods to Switzerland, Great Britain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Egypt, Palestine and the United States.

Local newspapers wrote of Gavrilović’s Italian meat-masters as well. When Giovanni Cossio, Petrinja’s long-standing and honourable citizen passed away, an article in the Petrinja Ravnopravnost (Equality) states the following: “The well-known salami master, Manager of Salami Production in Gavrilović’s factory, Ivan Cossio, passed away in his hometown of Tarcento in northern Italy. He spent a long twenty years with us at Gavrilović and the superior quality of the goods he produced helped the Gavrilović Company become an international establishment. The factory will mourn a man of virtue, class and talent. He began with nothing, so to speak. Through his hard work and resourceful work ethic, he managed to procure and leave behind a large personal inheritance. Several days before he died, he bade farewell to Petrinja, the Gavrilović Company, and his many friends and admirers, and left to go and die peacefully in his homeland.’’

According to the Banovac Weekly, December 1892 and January 1893 were ‘’…perfectly ideal for the production of salami.’’
The Banovac does not forget to mention the Italian masters, and says: “These travelling workers, mostly Italians – meat-masters and bricklayers – upon finishing their labours, went back home this Sunday, singing a merry tune.’’
The same article describes Petrinja’s largest factory, and leading exporter of cured meats: ‘’…Our national salami, lard and cured meat factory, has pushed aside foreign products of this sort from markets in Croatia. The products we make are constantly increasing in demand outside of our homeland. It is necessary to boost our home-based industry. When we are able to drive out all foreign products from our markets, it is then that our own nation’s well-being will begin to rise.’’

In researching the lineage of the Italian meat-masters, we found out that the last of the Cimbarro family, a man named Mario, had lived in Zagreb in Marticeva Street up until the end of the Second World War. He died after the War, whereupon his wife and younger children moved back to Udine. His oldest son, though, was married in Zagreb and had a daughter named Nineta.

Let us end this chronicle of Italian meat-masters in Petrinja with a story about the Di Giusto family. Three generations of this Italian meat family left a deep impression in Petrinja. Some people today still recall the last of the Di Giusto masters, who was a line manager at the Salamsko Department in the 1960s. He always wore a French beret, and one of his legs was slightly shorter than the other. In the production room there was a large, cement tub, where Master Di Giusto would mix the ingredients for the Zimska Salami with his own hands. As there were no precise tools to measure humidity levels in the chambers where the meat would be drying and maturing, Master Di Giusto would take a hamper and fill it with ten litres of water and a kilogram of salt. Then he would take a birch broom and soak it into the solution. The broom was then turned upside-down and set against a wall in the chamber, near the door. After six to eight hours, or overnight, when the workers would make their rounds, they would simply feel the dampness of the broom to determine the approximate humidity of the chamber. The bristles on the broom needed to be pliable for optimal humidity. This is what made the Zimska Salami perfect!

1Udine – a city and comune in northeastern Italy, in the middle of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, between the Adriatic Sea and the Alps. The region is considered the homeland of prosciutto and fine salami.

2Herman Bolle – was a German architect who practiced in Zagreb and Croatia in the XIX century and left an important mark on city planning and layout of today’s Zagreb. His works include Museum of Arts and Crafts, the Zagreb Cathedral, the Mirogoj Cemetery and the Greek Catholic Cathedral in Zagreb.