Cultural Heritage

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

Matos Petrinja Salami for the Emperor and Ban

In the first half of the 19th century, of all the meat masters in the Gavrilović family, Johann-Ivec Gavrilović was the most successful. Despite this fact, it was not Johann-Ivec who was most popular, but rather Mato Gavrilović who was positioned at the top of the Petrinja meat dynasty. It is his name that stands on the official logo of the Zimska Salami: Mato Gavrilović and Sons.

Born in 1836, Mathias Mato begins learning the meat trade at a very young age, under the guidance of his uncle Ivec. Mato’s father was too preoccupied with the expansion and remodeling of the meat shops to teach young Mato the trade. Mato often paid visits to his aunt and uncle who had no children of their own and thus uncle Ivek took Mato under his wing as an apprentice. After successfully learning the trade, Mato was officially “freed”, as was the tradition, and set off for a two-year cooperative where he learned the trade from various meat masters across the Austro-Hungarian Empire (like apprentice Hlapić from the popular children’s story). Upon his return to Petrinja, he entered the Meat Guild and ran his uncle’s meat shop, while helping his father run his own as well. During that time, he married the daughter of a well-known and affluent merchant from Sisak. She was four years his junior and named Marija Radoćaj. Due to his reputation, wealth, and model behaviour, Mato received a free-citizen decree from the military community of Petrinja. He thus became the tenth member of the Gavrilović family to receive a citizenship decree from the magistrate and was given privileges like the other citizens from military communities across the Croatian-Slavonian military border.

Besides the meat trade, Mato Gavrilović managed other business and retail projects as well, thus was the first in his family to take on the role of a modern-day private entrepreneur. Mato was quite the businessman at home as well, having three sons with his wife, Marija Radočaj Gavrilović, in a short span of years. The first son was Stephanus (Stjepan); the second Mate, named after his father, as it was meant to be; and the third, Georg (Gjuro) – a name that will come to signify the Gavrilović family and Company to this day. Unfortunately, the three Gavrilović sons will soon end up without a mother, who dies at the early age of 29. The grandparents of the children will go on to take over the boys’ upbringing.

The death of his beloved wife was a terrible loss for Mato. A secret part of their love story reveals Mato’s fascination with Marija’s beautiful hair. Aunt Vesna recounts: “Grandfather Mato loved his wife very dearly and was literally obsessed with her long, abundant hair. Marija Radočaj (her family continued to call her by her maiden name) was said to use petroleum on her scalp and brush her hair with a fine comb made of bone. Grandfather Mato loved his wife so, that he had a portrait prepared in honour of his wife, made out of her own hair. I never asked how the illustrious hair was set on the canvas, but my mother just used to say: ‘Radočaj’s portrait, made out of her very own hair.”

After the death of his wife, Mato turned to new business ventures, which he deemed most beneficial in those insecure times for the whole military border region. Besides his meat trade, Mato owned a modern convenience store, a large mill, and a warehouse for flour. From 1879 onward, his three sons – Stjepan, Mato and Gjuro – assisted him with his businesses. In 1879, their grandfather, Josip, still energetic at 66 years of age, leased a tavern in town, for a pricey 120 forints per year. On the daily menu one could obviously expect to find “Gavrilović’s Specialties”.

Mato was active in the city’s social sphere as well. He was a distinguished member of the Music Conservatory, the City Orchestra, and the Economic Brotherhood. Back in 1873 he encouraged the establishment of the Voluntary Firefighters’ Society in Petrinja. As a result, he was a regular guest at the various events held by the Society. On one of these occasions, he met Ban Ladislav Pejačević who was visiting Petrinja. Mato was on the welcoming committee and thanks to him, they organized an elaborate dinner party at a hotel in Petrinja called Zum Anker (At the Anchor). Mato used this dinner party to promote his company. He presented his well-known Petrinjska sausage and special Gavrilović cured cold cuts to the Ban and his regiment and the other distinguished guests at the party.

At the beginning of the 1880s, Mato had to give up most of his social duties in order to spend more time on the reconstruction of his meat shops, sausage houses and smoke rooms that were already quite rundown. However, all of these mega plans were a bit too much even for ambitious Mato himself. Unfortunately, in the end, one of the most popular and most successful members of the Gavrilović family passed away, at a fairly young age of only 47. He was given a large funeral, accompanied by the Firefighters’ Choir and City Orchestra. On October 20, 1883, Mato Gavrilović was buried alongside his ancestors, at the St. Rok Cemetary.

With his departure, business activities slowed down a bit, but did not stop altogether. Gavrilović’s ideas did not fade away, thanks to his three ambitious and determined sons. Although still young, they were aware of what needed to be done in the business. Mato’s name will long be remembered as the pioneer and leading figure of the modern Gavrilović meat industry. His memory brings a sentence to mind, confirming his achievements: “Mato’s Petrinja Salami for the Emperor and Ban!” Now we can include Ban Jelačić to the above-mentioned Ban Pejačević, who was already a friend of the Gavrilović’s. It was Mato who made sure to involve the Monarch himself. In 1869, Emperor and King Franz Josef visited the Military Border and the city of Petrinja.

“On March 12, 1869, the Heads of the Economic Brotherhood of Petrinja awaited the Emperor and King, Franz Josef II. The King was offered wine made at the Brotherhood, as well as meat specialties from one of the chairmen of the Brotherhood – meat master Mato Gavrilović. Despite strict measures regarding his diet during his travels, the Austrian King nonetheless had a taste of something out of protocol…” This was all arranged by local Petrinjian, Stjepan Pejaković, who lived in Vienna at the time.