Kulen is a type of flavoured sausage made of minced pork that is traditionally produced in Croatia (Slavonia) and Serbia (Vojvodina).
A kind of kulen from Slavonia has had its designation of origin protected in Croatia by an organisation from Bošnjaci. In parts of Slavonia, kulen is called kulin in Ikavian accent.
The meat is low-fat, rather brittle and dense, and the flavour is spicy. The red paprika gives it aroma and colour, and garlic adds spice. The original kulen recipe does not contain black pepper because its hot flavour comes from hot red paprika.
The traditional time of producing kulen is during the pig slaughter done every autumn by most rural households. Kulen matures during the winter; it can be eaten at this time, although not fully dried and cured yet, with very hot taste, but it will develop its full taste by the following summer. To produce a dryer, firmer kulen, it is sometimes kept buried under ashes, which act as a desiccant. Kulen is a shelf-stable meat product, with a shelf life of up to two years when refrigerated or even kept at room temperatures.
The meat is stuffed and pressed into bags made of pork intestine, and formed into links that are usually around ten centimetres in diameter, and up to three times as long, weighing around a kilogram.
The pieces of kulen are smoked for several months, using certain types of wood. After the smoking they are air-dried for another several months. This process can last up to a year. Although similar to other air-dried procedures, the meat is fermented in addition to the air-drying. High-grade kulen is sometimes even covered with a thin layer of mould, giving it a distinct aroma.
When the kulen meat is stuffed into the small intestine, it is thinner and requires less smoking and drying, but it also takes less time to prepare. This type of sausage is often referred to as kulenova seka (literally kulen’s sister).
Kulen is perceived as a premium domestically-made dried meat product. Although it has also been produced commercially throughout former Yugoslavia since World War II, industrial process of production is significantly different, resulting in major differences in appearance and aroma. However, it is economically feasible, given that on the Zagreb market even a low-grade kulen can cost much more than other types of sausages and is comparable to smoked ham. An annual “Kulenijada” festival is held in many Croatian and Serbian cities to honour the history and great regional masters of making kulen.