Read This: The Cheesemaker's Daughter

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

I'm here today to highly recommend a beautiful, powerful, intercultural story: The Cheesemaker's Daughter, by Kristin Vuković.

Read This: The Cheesemaker's Daughter

I will be honest with you: When you pick up this book, you will travel to new lands, experience intercultural living, learn about history and language and family and cheesemaking and seasons, fall in love with the island of Pag in Croatia, and not sleep until you turn the last page. 

Pag, Croatia. From Read This: The Cheesemaker's Daughter

The Cheesemaker's Daughter is THAT GOOD. Yes, it's in the top five of the best books I've ever read.


Kristin Vuković unspools such beauty into our lives with her words. She marvelously captures the rich experience of crossing cultures, finding one's cultural identity, and following your roots to find yourself. The book also dives deeply into food, cheesemaking, competition, family, heritage, history, and such a landscape.

She is a master at capturing the essence of place. Have I ever been to Pag? Not yet. Do I see myself there after reading this book? Indeed. Soft hills, sheep galore, mountains and water...

Pag, Croatia. From Read This: The Cheesemaker's Daughter

I can't stop thinking about it.

Highly, highly recommended!

Author Kristin Vuković in Pag, Croatia

Kristin Vuković has written for the New York Times, BBC Travel, Travel + Leisure, Coastal Living, Virtuoso, The Magazine, Hemispheres, the Daily Beast, AFAR, Connecticut Review, and Public Books, among others. An early excerpt of her novel was longlisted for the Cosmonauts Avenue Inaugural Fiction Prize. She was named a “40 Under 40” honoree by the National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation, and received a Zlatna Penkala (Golden Pen) award for her writing about Croatia. Kristin holds a BA in literature and writing and an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and was Editor-in-Chief of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art. She grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota and currently resides in New York City with her husband and daughter. For more information, please visit Find preorder options at 

We were lucky enough to catch up with Kristin, and ask her about the book, inspiration, crossing cultures, cheese, and so much more. You'll love this! Here's what she had to say...

Kristin Vuković, author of The Cheesemaker's Daughter

Please tell us about your debut novel, The Cheesemaker's Daughter...
The novel asks: How do you begin again when the past threatens to drown you? This is Marina’s story—it’s a story of her transformation. When she returns to her native Croatia to help her father try to save their failing cheese factory, she’s reeling from an unraveling marriage and a heartbreaking loss. Marina’s father sent her to New York as a refugee during the war in the former Yugoslavia, and she returns to an island with a complex history, in a country about to enter the European Union. She’s forced to confront her American and Croatian identities, and finds herself facing divides—an unresolved relationship with the son of a rival cheesemaker, a brother who went with their father to war, friends whose lives continued in a place she left behind.

Pag, Croatia. From Read This: The Cheesemaker's Daughter

What inspired you to write this book?
The seed of this idea came to me on a cheese festival reporting assignment in 2011 for the now-defunct bilingual newspaper, The Croatian Chronicle. The island of Pag’s dramatic moonscape setting captivated me from my very first visit, and after many additional trips to Croatia, I realized how unique it is within Croatia. I had originally conceptualized a premise about two rival cheesemakers on a divided Croatian island, but I didn’t have the engine of the story yet, or the heart of what I really wanted to write about. But good ideas never let you go—the island stayed in my mind, and I continued to return. After many years, I came up with Marina’s character, and figured out the story I really wanted to tell, which centers around a woman reconciling the two halves of herself and discovering who she really wants to be.

This is a deeply intercultural novel, of finding your cultural self and figuring out where home is. What is your own background in crossing cultures, and how did you work to show what it's really like?
I grew up visiting my Croatian grandparents in Dayton, Ohio, and they would speak Croatian at home and my grandmother would cook Croatian dishes and desserts (some of which are featured in the novel). They didn’t teach my father the Croatian language, because at the time it wasn’t popular to be from Eastern Europe or to speak English with an accent—immigrants strove to be as American as they could be. The Croatian culture always felt just out of reach, which certainly fueled my obsession with Croatia, as well as my decision to learn the language and to become a travel writer. 

I have now visited Croatia more than two dozen times. My grandparents never returned to the country where they were born, and I wanted to write a story about a character who returned—a reverse assimilation story. 

Marina has a divided Croatian-American identity, having spent half her life in Astoria, Queens, after leaving during the war in the former Yugoslavia as a teenage refugee. My MFA in creative nonfiction and subsequent travel writing certainly came in useful for background research for this novel. I was also fortunate to have friends and colleagues who generously shared their stories as inspiration: My maid of honor at my wedding was a refugee from Sarajevo, and a Croatian friend was actually a refugee on the island of Pag during the war in the former Yugoslavia. I even mined my husband’s experience (he left his home country of India at age 17 and moved to America)—while he wasn’t a refugee, he does relate to some of the novel’s core themes, including identity, belonging and home. Of course, since this is fiction, I used my imagination to get into Marina’s head, and really tried to capture her feelings of displacement and feeling like an outsider in her own culture when she returned to Pag. Marina couldn’t return to the country she left—Yugoslavia—since it no longer existed. So that’s an additional layer of displacement. 

I think that’s an aspect of the novel that is very relatable, no matter where you come from: When you leave a place, things are never the same when you return. And you aren’t the same. 

Pag, Croatia. From Read This: The Cheesemaker's Daughter

What were the joys and challenges of researching this book?
It was thrilling to dive into a pastoral life so different than my daily existence in New York City. There was something about being close to the land and livestock that made me feel alive and present. I became intrigued with the island’s fascinating history—I was hooked when I heard a king divided the island between two bishops centuries ago, and that geographic divide still exists today. But I exaggerate the divide in the novel for symbolic effect. 

The culture of the island is unique, from the folk costumes to the language—there are three dialects spoken on the island. The language was definitely a barrier; my Croatian is conversational at best, which makes it tough to communicate. Fortunately, during my visits to the island, I made some friends who helped with translation. Without them, this narrative would not be nearly as nuanced.

CHEESE! I loved the insider look into the process of cheesemaking, a world I hadn't really delved into before. What might people be surprised to learn about cheesemaking?
There’s an aspect of unpredictability that was really interesting to me, especially with unpasteurized cheese. The cheesemaking season for Pag cheese runs from January through early July—February cheese can taste so different from June cheese, due to shifting climate conditions and the sheep’s diet and the various herbs that are in season. I was surprised to learn that the sheep on Pag are still hand-milked. On the island, there are around 35,000 sheep—so that’s a lot of milking!

Sheep on Pag Island, Croatia. From Read This: The Cheesemaker's Daughter

How can people find your work? 
X: @Vukovic
Facebook: @Kristin.Vukovic
Instagram: @KristinVukovic
LinkedIn: in/kristinvukovic

What's up next for you?
I’m in the throes of publicity and promotion for the novel, writing (and pitching) “off the book” essays and articles related to themes in the book and about Croatia. I’m looking forward to summer, where I’m planning to brainstorm more ideas for a second novel that will touch on some of the same themes.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Most people don’t know the insider “how the sausage is made” aspect of books, but after speaking with my publisher, I’ve learned that pre-orders are so important these days and they really help support authors and their forthcoming books. Pre-orders count towards the first week of sales, and they can positively affect how a book is stocked, whether you pre-order from Amazon or indies. 

We authors are so grateful to you avid readers! Thank you, thank you.


Pag island photos: Kristin Vuković
Author photo: Sylvie Rosokoff
Book photo on the dock: Jessie Voigts