Njegusi prosciutto, also known as the Njegusi ham, is a protected food specialty of Montenegro cuisine, and believe us, there is a strong reason for that. Njegusi prosciutto is one those foods that is climate conditioned, and even though there are similar dry meat specialties all over the Balkans, and even in some other surrounding countries, there is none quite like Njegusi prosciutto in Montenegro.
The Njegusi ham represents a cultural legacy of sorts, which shouldn’t come off as strange, being that Montenegrins are extremely proud of their rich culture and history. In order to better understand what kind of a dish is Njegusi prosciutto, how it’s made and served, what are its origins, first we have to take a journey to Njegusi ham place of birth – a historical village of Njegusi.
Njegusi – birthplace of Njegusi prosciutto
As you probably expected, village of Njegusi is located in the mountainous area of Montenegro. More precisely, Njegusi is located in Cetinje, the area of the old Montenegro capital, covered by the Lovcen mountain. The village is famous for being the birthplace of Petrovic dynasty, that used to rule Montenegro from the end of 17th century until the beginning of the 20th.
But, the reason why we’re really here telling a story about Njegusi, is the fact that the village today is the most recognizable as the home of Montenegrin national cuisine – mostly for the star of this blog, Njegusi prosciutto, as well as Njegusi cheese and Njegusi steak.
Njegusi village used to be the center of Katunska nahija, which is a mountain settlement specific to Montenegrin culture, and today it has a population of around 20 inhabitants.
Even though the Njegusi village holds a huge space in history of Montenegro, and is very significant, however, it is basically unknown among tourists. The place also has a sentimental value, since a number of great rulers was born and raised here, with their houses still intact, serving as museums.
Apart from the museums, there are also cultural monuments, monasteries and other points of interest that make Njegusi a Montenegro attraction worth discovering, with one of them certainly being Njegusi prosciutto.
Nature, healthy foods and even “healthier” rakija
Natural surroundings of Njegusi also hide caves, pits and other karst forms that are usually a great point of interest for various adrenaline junkies and nature lovers, as well as explorers. For visiting, we recommend the period between May and October, since Montenegro weather can get a harsh turn in the winter.
The entire area around Njegusi is suitable for agriculture and the production of healthy, organic foods, which is why this place has always been popular among those who have heard of it – mainly for organizing camps, workshops, picnics or adventures in genuinely beautiful natural landscape.
Njegusi village is made for production of healthy foods, and as we already mentioned it, it’s main gourmet offer is comprised of the best Montenegrin food you could possibly ask for – Njegusi prosciutto, Njegusi cheese, honey, wine, and rakija, the famous alcoholic drink of the Balkan region, so let’s have a closer look at this delicacy.
We present you its majesty – the Njegusi prosciutto
For Montenegrins, Njegusi prosciutto or Njegusi ham, or however you want to call it, is much more than a delicacy – it’s a way of life. Njegusi prosciutto has been a part of the Montenegrin tradition for ages, and an unbreakable part of their lives. This is a kind of treat that is offered in every home as a sign of ultimate hospitality, and respect.
What comes as the best affirmation of all is the the honest delight everybody feels once they taste this edible marvel, no matter where they come from or whether they have tasted it before or not.
Now, this is a moment to ponder – is there a special secret to this dish, an exceptional reason why it’s so delicious and incomparable to everyone who has tried it?
We explore the Njegusi ham process of creation
Njegusi prosciutto can be described as a combination of incredible dark colour of the pork meat and intense taste, making you feel as if you are truly having a taste of luxury. The difference is that, this “luxury” is actually a final product of seemingly simple mastery process, that is most satisfying to taste in a rural setting of it’s making.
The reason why no one can stay indifferent to the taste of Njegusi prosciutto is because the original prosciutto is obtained in dryers who who have a meter thick walls, made of locally carved stone. We’ll say it again – this is a single way to make original Njegusi prosciutto.
The dedicated process of making this unique Njegusi ham requires special salt from the coastal town of Ulcinj and beech tree, in order for the meat to be smoked on low heat during the day and than dried during the night, during the span of 15 days.
On the 15th day of salting, the meat is washed and then pressed with barrels full of water, but the process is far from over, since everyday inspection is still a must.
The factors behind captivating taste of Njegusi prosciutto
As we already mentioned, there isn’t only one constituent that adds up to the Njegusi prosciutto unique taste, but multiple. The short and simplified version of the production process we described above hasn’t changed for centuries – the salting, pressing and smoking processes are always carefully monitored, without a step skipped.
The Njegusi ham is exclusively smoked on the beech wood, and it takes almost half a year for the delicacy to be ready and offered to guests. So then, is a process of making it a secret ingredient?
Well, some would say that the secret is in the climate – that special encounter of sea and mountain air that makes it stand out. Also, the altitude of the production region varies from 500 to 1500 m, which characterizes area with moderately continental climate, thanks to the proximity of Skadar lake.
We say that that the secret is in the proportion of every single factor that makes it different and unique in comparison with every other dried meat specialty you’ve tried. This ultimately lead to Njegusi prosciutto becoming a national protected specialty, also in the terms of geographical indication – the Cetinje area.
What is Njegusi prosciutto served with?
Njegusi ham is usually served with special Njegusi cheese, made from dried milk and rich in fats – also one of the most exquisite specialties you could try in Montenegro.
Just like Njegusi prosciutto, this cheese also has to be kept in a shady place, but not as long as the Njegusi ham – the cheese requires some three months. Being that Njegusi village has always been famous for dairy products, it doesn’t come of as strange that the cheese they make, together with the Njegusi prosciutto, has a status of national treasure.
This famous cheese used to be sold all over the coastal area, together with Dalmatia, Trieste and Venice, and the tradition of its’ production is around 120 years old! The original cheese is only produced in this part of the country, with the special aroma owed to wooden pots in which the cheese is kept, called “kaca”.
This sort of cheese is also known as the “the full cheese”, being of the best quality when it’s made in combination of cow and sheep milk. The reason lies in the simple fact that the animals that produce the milk, live in unspoiled and pure conditions, in the fresh air, which reflects on the quality of milk.
The golden yellow circles of Njegusi cheese are kept in a ventilated and cool place up to 3 months before first tasting, and in combination with Njegusi prosciutto, olives from Bar and a glass of local wine, you get to taste a delicacy that will replenish all your senses.
Njegusi prosciutto – an authentic gastronomic symbol of Montenegro
Whoever visits Montenegro has a feeling that the richness of offer in terms of food is a result of healthy combination of nature, benevolent climate, fertile soil, and one key factor – tradition. Generations of people have been growing fruits and vegetables, cultivating animals, making dairy products, olive oil etc. in the exact same way they’ve been taught by their parents.
Their skills have been passed on by to the generations to come, in order to preserve the original taste and beauty for the children of their own. It goes without saying that this tradition includes attention, dedication and love, with the nature’s reward being much greater, evident to everyone who sets foot in our country.
Njegusi prosciutto is a product of one such tradition. It is dried and durable meat product of Montenegro is processed from ham of pork. The combination of natural environment, climate conditions, long tradition of production, as well as the reputation that goes beyond physical boundaries of the country.
Njegusi prosciutto is an authentic, traditional product whose geographical surroundings, climate and the skillfulness have made it become one of the national symbols, and a dish everybody who visits simply must try.
There are numerous places you can try the original Njegusi prosciutto at, mainly in Njegusi village itself, as well as Cetinje, the old capital of Montenegro, but if you happen to be stationed in Porto Montenegro, than you can try it in some of our numerous restaurants that serve local specialties.
Aside from that, the position of Porto Montenegro marina allows you to easily take a roadtrip to Cetinje or Njegusi, discover these two unique Montenegro attractions, and, it goes without saying – taste the authentic Njegusi prosciutto and see for yourself why this pork meat dish became a universal symbol of Montenegro cuisine!