DURING A RECENT stint living in central Serbia, I became obsessed with kajmak, which, if you can imagine, is like a lovechild between cream cheese and salty French butter. Made from the skimmed fat of cows’ milk and then mixed with salt, its consistency can vary from rather runny and milky (new) to more like clotted cream (old).
My mother-in-law and her sisters run some sort of kajmak mafia in their hometown of Kraljevo: There are frenzied meetings to discuss which of the sisters—or their one friend they also allow in on their operation—will make the kajmak pick-up, how much they will pay and how they will transport it (each sister seems to have a specific kajmak plastic container they use).
By the way, there is a huge debate in Serbia about whether the kajmak from Kraljevo or Čačak is the best.
There is a particular farmer’s wife the women go to for their kajmak, so when a new batch is ready she calls them and, through elaborate negotiations, the sisters score enough kajmak for the extended family.
The taste of kajmak, of course, is best when it’s homemade, and therein lies the problem: It’s a delicacy found only in the Balkans (though Turkey has something vaguely similar). While I did sneak some past customs at Heathrow on my last trip, I realized that unless I found an alternate source, I wouldn’t be having my adored kajmak on freshly baked bread until I returned to Serbia.
When you live overseas, you of course miss the tastes from home. Before today’s era of Internet commerce, a London-based American friend of mine joked she dated U.S. Marines only to gain access to the PX—or on-base commissary—to get her favorite American foodstuffs. But exploring the delicacies of the new land where you are living is truly one of the joys of expat life. The problem—as I discovered with kajmak—is that when you grow to love some of those products, how do you obtain them when you move back home, or on to a different country?
If you adore French cheeses, Italian sundried tomatoes or mozzarella, you are likely in luck, as they can be easily found across the globe. But if you adore Figura-branded tea from Poland (I do!) or packaged gevulde koek (almond cookies) from the Netherlands, finding these products can prove a bit tougher.
As for kajmak, getting the homemade kind is out of the question unless I want to make it myself—I found a recipe on the web but it looks very time consuming and a bit messy—but I did find an online Balkan foodshop (magaza-homedelivery.co.uk) where I can get commercially produced kajmak.
I’m thinking there could be a market for my mother-in-law and her sisters to internationalize their network.
Written by: Ginanne Brownell Mitic is an American-born, London-based journalist. She writes about the arts, culture and education for various international publications. She has lived as an expat also in Poland and Serbia and runs.