The people from these scattered villages placed on Arges River have always grown sheep that during the summer were taken on the high pastures in Făgăraș and in winter were brought near the houses. The transhumance, the movement of sheep from plain to mountain and back, this regular and ceaseless migration is closely related to the life of people living on Arges River.
The transhumance is specific to Romanian people, although this habit was developed on every continent. Romania is one of the few countries where transhumance is still practiced and is part of people’s life. In Cerbureni village, located on Arges Valley, at about 5km from the town of Curtea de Arges and 25km from Vidraru Dam, the villagers still grow sheep. In the ‘90s there were a few thousands, now there are only a few hundreds, but the tradition remains alive and the people of these places are proud that they have not lost the habit inherited from their parents or grandparents.
In 2014 the sheep movement continues. In the end of May the shepherds gathered on Cerbureni’s pasture about 700 sheep from the villagers. They are divided into two categories: those which give milk and the others. Every year there are approximately equal proportions. The sheep were gathered in the beginning of May. Each villager took out his flock of sheep from his backyard, took it down through the village till the river, because there is placed the pasture. In two days were gathered all the 700 sheep. Because it was still cold in the mountains the shepherds decided to stay a few weeks on the village’s pasture. In the end of April they set off following the river, up to the high mountains keeping like this alive the transhumance tradition.
The road is long and passes through several villages: Cerbureni, Albesti, Oiesti, Corbeni, Capataneni reaching up Vidraru Dam, Vidraru Lake and continuing on the long valleys of Făgăraș Mountains. The destination is Buda Valley in Făgăraș. This place is intended for sheep from Cerbureni village. Here are the village’s sheepfold and endless pastures on which the sheep are pastured daily.
The road is about 60km long and can be covered in 2 days. The sheep are herded by shepherds on the national road also known as Transfăgărășan. It is a moment full of emotion when they start their journey. The shepherds gather the sheep, the dogs, the donkeys and the luggage. They place themselves strategically in front and behind the flock and start the journey. The sheep fill up the street blocking the traffic. The cars must make their way through the multitude of animals. In the spring and in the autumn are days when you can find four or even five flocks on the road especially after Vidraru Dam. Many of the villages on Arges River have pastures in Făgăraș and send their sheep there for the summer.
The journey is repeated in autumn, generally in September. The moment is also chosen depending on the weather and it has to be sometime before the first snow fall. With as much serenity and detachment the shepherds descend from the mountains on the long road.
The transhumance involves a series of rituals. The sheep are fleeced before leaving the mountains, generally in May. The fleece obtained stays in the household of the sheep’s owner and the animals are prepared for the hot summer weather. There is a ritual for making the cheese. Because the milk gathered during summer cannot be delivered to the sheep’s owners, it is used to prepare a cheese specially designed to resist until autumn when the flocks descend from the mountain and sometimes even until spring. This cheese is called bellows cheese. It is a delicacy which is prepared by a complex process designed to ensure the preservation of cheese. The cheese is called “bellows cheese” because it is gathered and pressed in order to be kept in pig intestines or leather. The peasants on Arges Valley have in their households such kind of cheese, but it can also be found in traditional markets in towns as Curtea de Arges.
The transhumance is a living story in Romania, you can watch it, you can feel it if your journey takes you in these regions in the spring or autumn. Maybe you will even find in your way shepherds with their flocks walking carelessly toward their mountain houses or the ones from the lowlands. If you get in these regions in any other period, do not forget about the bellows cheese, it is a culinary magic and if you have the chance to eat it with hot polenta, with onion and a glass of țuică (Romanian traditional drink), you will definitely remember forever the Romanian cuisine and the traditions of this places.