To the Moon (Island) for Cheese

In July 2019 my mom and I were in Zadar, Croatia. A few weeks earlier, mom had visited the nearby island of Pag and raved about it, in particular a special cheese she had tried for the first time. She was planning to return and convinced me to join her for the forty-five-minute bus trip from Zadar.

Pag is called the Moon Island because of the lack of vegetation. Sheep roam around the rocky island feeding on stubby brushes and sparse grass. The locally-produced cheese has a distinct flavor because it is cured outside, where the refreshing Bura winds bear a salt-spray mist. When blowing fiercely, the Bura winds shake the bridge that leads to Pag.

One of my friends in Zadar, David is an archeologist at the University of Zadar. He told me that the Pag landscape is claimed to be the result of the Venetians’ exploitation of the island’s plentiful natural resources. Barren yet interesting, today it is a landscape of only rocks, pines, shrubs, and sparse greenery. While kind to the cheese, the salt spray brought by the Bura winds stunts vegetation.

You can get Pag’s famous cheese either fresh or aged in the open air. David, finds the fresh cheese lacking in flavor and as he calls it, gross. The aged cheese has a taste similar to a Romano cheese. Based on David’s advice I tried the aged version — hard, crumbly, and salty, but delicious.

There are three ways to get to Pag: by car, bus, or ferry. The ferry is significantly more expensive than the bus. If I go again, I’ll drive so I can make stops the bus does not to explore along the way to Pag town. I’m especially keen to eat at one of the many cool restaurants that roast lamb on the spit. From the bus it looked amazing, and the restaurants in Pag town don’t serve lamb cooked this way. I would also like to visit the bright-white ancient fortress on the way that is home to many kitties.

The small, old town is filled with quaint cafes, shops, and restaurants. The maze of narrow streets are fun to explore. Like many fishing towns, Pag is famous for its lace. We met sweet, elderly women selling handmade lace outside their apartments — necklaces, anklets, bracelets, and doilies. They tried to tell us about their wares, but only spoke Croatian, telling them we didn’t speak Croatian didn’t stop them, they went on anyway.

Pag is a popular tourist destination for families. The swimming spots are more pebble than sand; they were swarming with people. The sea is filled with inflatable children’s obstacle courses, including slides. We had some seafood near one of the beaches at Genius Restaurant. After enjoying a walk around the island, we stopped in one last café for a drink, then boarded the bus for our trip home to Zadar.