Cultural Heritage

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

Petrinja’s Zimska Salami like French Cognac

It is not that well-known of a fact that an Italian family participated in the creation of Gavrilovic salamis. The Cimbaro’s, masonry workers from Udine, Italy, worked during the winter in the small city of Petrinja. Alongside their work in the masonry trade, they dealt in meat production on the side. They were invited by the Gavrilovic’s to come and stay on a regular basis and assist in the preparation of various meat specialties. Thus, three generations of the Cimbaro’s spent their winters in the small city of Petrinja and prepared their meat specialties with the Gavrilovic’s, every year. From December to February they cooked hams, back-bone steaks, pork chops and shoulder-loin salamis. In terms of sausages, the most popular one owed its particular taste to the harsh coldness of winter. The creation of this specific salami began in the 1860s and with time, took to being called Zimska, or Winter Salami, because of the season in which it was made. – Zimska.

Thus began the production of this top-quality cured meat delicacy. Zagreb was still quite a small and trite city at the southern part of the Monarchy, without a university of its own. Young writer, August Senoa, a student in Prague at the time, describes Zagreb in his first newspaper feuilleton. One can easily assume that the exceptional Petrinja salami was offered to guests at the home of the aristocratic Istvanic family from Turopolje. Senoa, the young writer from the Upper Town in Zagreb, was invited to the celebration. Imagine Senoa eating the tasty salami and getting it stuck in his throat upon setting his eyes on the youngest of the three Istvanic daughters, Slavica, saying:
“This one or no one!” His intentions were sincere and they married and lived amiably in the Upper Town. Three children were born of that marriage, of which the two sons – Milan and Branko – had their own successful careers. Senoa and Gavrilovic’s stories connect once more when one of Gavrilovic’s great-aunts marries Senoa’s nephew, thus substituting one famous last name for another.

Senoa’s famed remark: “This one or no one!” became a popular statement amongst Zagreb city folk when they would choose which salami to buy. They were obviously referring to the Gavrilovic Salami, or Croatian Salami, as they would often call it. Its reputation stemmed in part from the fact that, already in the early 1880s, one could find the salami on the shelves of some of the larger butcher shops across the Monarchy. Even Emperor Franz Joseph awarded the Croatian Salami with a gold medal for its exceptional quality at a fair in Vienna.

Gjuro Gavrilović, present-day owner of the Petrinja meat dynasty, states the following: “The Zimska Salami is, above-all, Petrinja’s most valued product, because the manufacturing process alone is the most complex”. It is made with only top-quality meat and the maturing process is quite long – similar to that of genuine French cognac.” It is obvious that such an expensive and sought-after product could not continue to be manufactured the way it was in the beginning, on a seasonal level, during winters only. Therefore, by the turn of the century, the staff at the Petrinja plant made plans to prolong the season for the manufacture of its Zimska Salami.

An old chronicle from 1864 says that production continued and the season was prolonged even despite the long and harsh winters of Petrinja. “…The Kupa River was completely frozen over and the people of Petrinja were forced to use horse-pulled sleighs to get across the mystic river to visit family and friends in the villages of Vurot, Staro Pracno and Stara Drencina. This lasted all the way up to February.’’

“When my grandfather and father were living, air-conditioning was not invented yet. However, in 1924, my father, Gjuro Gavrilović, came up with an idea on how to refrigerate the rooms where salamis were drying. That is why from the 1940s onward, Gavrilović begins its mass production of cured meats, which will amount to a thousand tons per year,’’ explains Gavrilović.

One question remains unanswered: are the products still taste-tested before being packaged for sale, as they were long ago? Yes, even today, all the products are tested the day after they are made. Gjuro, himself, remarks: “I always make an effort to try each brand of salami whenever I get the chance, but the Zimska is the one I need to taste every day!”