A Day with the Shepherds

Posted by Crooked Compass

The day was overcast, there was a slight drizzle challenging us and a foggy mist encompassing all around us but nothing could dampen our spirits as we ventured by trusty 4WD into the land of Ukraine's shepherds, deep within the Carpathian Mountains.

4WD into the Carpathian MountainsPhoto credit: Crooked Compass
4WD into the Carpathian Mountains Photo credit: Crooked Compass

Only accessible by foot or hard core off roading, these shepherds leave their village life behind for several months a year and head for their rickety wooden huts where they spend the summer caring for fellow villagers cattle (and on occasion sheep). Whilst the cattle are grazing, they are busy boiling and churning cheese from the milk which they then sell to the villagers.

Shepherds home in Carpathian Mountains Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Shepherds home in Carpathian Mountains Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Our 4WD could go no further due to the boggy marsh we had reached, so we ventured on foot. The shepherds dwellings are incredibly basic with simply a thin hard bed to sleep in and a fire which continuously burns as they separate the cream from the milk. The fire also helps dry their cheese (which is incredibly smooth and smokey) and of course provide heat in their non insulated hut. Life is off the land, tough and simplistic.

Inside a Shepherds hut Photo Credit: Kate Pientka
Inside a Shepherds hut Photo Credit: Kate Pientka

After witnessing the shepherds start the process of today's cheese production, eyes stinging from the smoke, it was time for us to go foraging and get our hunter-gatherer on. We wandered through the mist which blanketed the mountains and then explored the lush pine forests as we ate our way through the juicy blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. The flavour was mouthwateringly sweet!

Foraging for berries in the Carpathian Mountains Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Foraging for berries in the Carpathian Mountains Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Our main mission though, was to forage for wild mushrooms which we would then take back to our guesthouse and cook up for dinner this evening! We saw huge Mario Kart type mushrooms (red with white spots but sadly not edible) and mushrooms which were vibrant orange and looked like a tangle of coral. Fox mushrooms were the winners we were hunting for.

Foraging for mushrooms in the Carpathian Mountains Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Foraging for mushrooms in the Carpathian Mountains Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Once our bags were bursting with fresh mushrooms, we hiked back to our shepherds HQ where one shepherd continued labouring on the cheese inside whilst the other watched cautiously over his cattle. Lunch was slowly sizzling away in a beat up pot over a crackling fire. The aroma of fresh meat and mountain vegetables swirled amongst the mist.

Watching the weather and the cattle Photo Credit: Kate Pientka
Watching the weather and the cattle Photo Credit: Kate Pientka

We left the shepherds to continue their cooking as we went to mingle with their cattle. Curious by our presence, they were the friendliest cows we have ever encountered!

Making friends Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Making friends Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

The aroma of lunch had wafted over to us luring us back for our simple yet incredibly flavoursome shepherds meal. We learned of the challenges these shepherds face living so remote for several months at a time often without encountering any other people. A gun shot fired in the distance. We jump up and look around for some action. 'Wild birds' we are instructed by the shepherds who barely bat an eyelid and continue eating.

Lunch is cooking! Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Lunch is cooking! Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Following lunch, we witness the separation of the cream and cheese. It has boiled long enough. A net like cloth is used to scoop out the steaming solids which are squeezed, drained, and hung on a nail to drip the remaining moisture out. This will be cheese in a few days time. Ready for sale.

Separating curds and whey Photo Credit: Kate Pientka
Separating curds and whey Photo Credit: Kate Pientka

Shortly, they will bring in the cows for their third milking of the day before they spend their evenings drinking local vodka and then repeat this same process again tomorrow. An incredibly simple yet tough life and what a privilege it was to spend time and simply just hang out with these locals who rarely encounter anyone let alone foreign travellers in their summers months so high in the mountains. We simply slipped into their lives today and watched them do their thing. Nothing planned, nothing structured for tourism. Local life at its best. Untouched, raw, authentic. The Crooked Compass way.

Last glance at our shepherds hut Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Last glance at our shepherds hut Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

This experience is part of our Ukraine Untouched small group tour. To make this experience yours, please visit our Ukraine Untouched tour for more details.