Decani monastery is the jewel of the Serbian Orthodox church in Kosovo. Indeed, it belongs to more people than that, as one of the sites given Unesco World Heritage status in Kosovo. It’s been protected by local Albanians through history (doughty British traveller Edith Durham, who visited it a century ago, describes the ‘Albanian Zaptiehs…; most wild looking Mahomedans who are nevertheless very faithful’ who were guarding it when she arrived) though in the nervous years since the war in Kosovo in 1999 it’s been protected by Italian KFOR troops.
In the lee of the ‘Accursed’ Mountains, the monastery is set in its own farmlands, worked by the monks who make their own cheese (when I went to celebrate Orthodox Christmas there a few years ago, we came out of the long early morning service, dizzy with plainsong and the extraordinary heavy circular candelabra over the altar which had been set swinging back and forth by a monk with a long pole, and were restored with fabulous gibanica cheese pie) and wine and… honey.
It’s blonde set acacia honey with a strong lanolin scent which hardly penetrates the flavour. In fact, the taste is uncomplicated, almost to a fault: a very sweet honey with only very subtle hints of something like apricot. I think it would be best used for cooking with other flavours (with a complex fruit flavour like quince or maybe my pears en papillote recipe, zinging with raki which the monks also make rather well).
The monastery is rich with frescoes and carvings, where faces frown out from the dark gold of icons in a dim interior that surprises you after the exterior marble’s luminosity. So although maybe I won’t return to Decan for the honey, there are plenty of other reasons to go, and the potted memory of cloistered calm I brought back with me to spread on my breakfast toast is still an excellent way to start the day.
For more of my adventures in honey and in Kosovo, read Travels in blood and honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published last year by Signal Books.