India in pictures

Yak Cheese

8:11 PM



Today's picture of India isn't a place I visited. This something I ate instead. Where? In Manali, when DH and I spent the Holidays there in 2009. I would not even have knew it existed if one of our travel guides didn't mention it as something one has to try at least once. I bought that one at the German Bakery at the end of the Mall and ate it all by myself later that day. DH doesn't like cheese at all, and that one smelled enough to repell him. To me, it smelled good. What can I say? I am Swiss, we have far stinkier, sharper and stronger tasting cheeses. Kids eat them from a very early age, and develop a palate for them in no time at all.

Yak cheese tastes a bit like a sharper version of Emmentaler, which is a Swiss cheese made famous the world over because if its trademark holes, and is in fact just known as Swiss cheese in many countries (as if we had only one variant of cheese!!!). Emmentaler to tell you the truth is probably the blandest cheese we have in my homeland, and has a very sweet taste. Yak cheese has a lot of that sweetness to it, but has more fat, and a sharper under taste that made me think of a very mild Gruyere (another famous Swiss cheese...and no contrary to what the French from France think....it has no holes).

The travel guide that lead me to that discovery said: "Yak cheese is an aquired taste we urge you to aquire". The book was written in India for domestic tourists, and many like DH will shy away from cheese because its pungent smell to begin with. For me, it was nothing new. I imagined it to have a much stronger and different taste than it actually had. It was good, but not outstanding, out of this world awesome good. But then I suspect this was one type of cheese made with yak milk, I am sure there other recipes of yak cheese done accross the Himalayas.



6 comments

  1. Anonymous2:12 PM

    Happy Janmastami to you and family. May Lord Krishna bless you with peace and prosperity. Oh, I miss the Janamastamis of my childhood when it was more a children's festival and there was less crowd in the neighborhood temples. Now, there is too much crowd and the temples resemble fortresses due to security reasons.

    About cheese, I saw a few documentaries about cheese in France. There are six towns or villages each making unique cheese. The cheese appeared to be dusty and slightly moldy to me. Perhaps it happen during the aging process. Indian cheese are soft, fresh and not so bitter. That is why they looked like prehistoric rocks. I was not sure why someone would eat this sour, bitter rocky substance. However, this process of storing wines and cheese is fascinating because we do not have such traditions in India.

    Apple

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    1. Happy Janamastami to you too. I stayed inside most of the day today, the crowd in Mumbai gets insane because of the Dahi Handi competitions all accross town.

      Cheese in Europe is aged simply because it was a way to preserve the milk and have something to eat during the long Winters, and to get a cheese that will not kill you, the fermentation process is carefully monitored, cheese making is an old art, and every regions accross Europe has their very specific cheeses made from the milk of local cows. What the cow eat give a specific taste to the milk. The cheese you find in India is a modern processed cheese, at the exception of paneer which is a traditional one. And in fact all cheeses do start as paneer, it is the curing, and fermentation process that end up giving it it's final appearance. Traditionnaly European cheeses are also salted, and the developing crust is washed with salt, because salt has been a preservative known for centuries, again as a necessity to keep as much of the food harvested during the good season edible during the hard months. Most of India has a much milder climate in the Winter and the necessity to preserve everything is not ingrained in the culture, because you can still grow a few seasonal crops. The Himalayan areas do have some of that same necessity Europeans had to preserve as much as possible to last the Winter, which is probably why a cheese such as the Yak cheese above exist if that makes sense.

      In Switzerland there are so extremely remote areas in the Alps that were still cut from the rest of the world during the harsh winter a century ago. Back home we usually say that Alpine dwellers are still rigged and hardened individuals, because even with the technology we have those living in the mountains deal with the elements and know nature's fury better than anyone else. In General, Swiss people, even city dwellers like myself learn from a very early age to understand and respect nature, resourcefulness is an ingrained trait we have, passed from generations to generations.

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    2. Oh my you've discovered yak cheese- my favorite food in Nepal!!

      A bit of information about yak cheese:
      Yak cheese is called 'chhurpi' or 'durkha' in Nepal & Tibet and comes in several forms-
      Hard Chhurpi/ Durkha
      Soft chhurpi
      Chhur singba or Chhur mingba
      Chhurpupu
      Marchang
      What you probably had was hard Chhurpi/ Durkha which is made from yak milk in a large 10 - 12 kg wheel (like European cheeses) brined with Tibetan red salt and smoked over a wood fire to get a low moisture content. It is usually stored for about 2 yrs. I agree with you it reminds me of a mix of a mild Gruyere, an Emmentaler with a bit of the richness of a Parmagiano Reggiano. Hard Chhurpi/Durkha is popular on pizza here in Nepal. (Hard chhurpi/dhurka can also be known as by the more romantic moniker 'flower of rajya').
      The rind of hard chhurpi is also chewed or boiled as a base for soups.
      Soft chhurpi/dhurka is usually made from cow's milk & the preparation is the same as the hard chhurpi. The flavor is a tad milder than an Emmental & closer to a Leerdammer or a Jarlberg.

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    3. oh my! Now I have to find a way to taste them all!

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  2. I really like this series Cyn... It helps that you really are showing a different India from your perspective versus what is usually marketed.

    This was news to me... I did not know Yak Cheese existed :) though I do know there are different types of cheese , never bothered to read about them.. very informative post in my opinion

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    1. This is the point of this serie :-) I am a bit tired of seeing India being limited to the Taj Mahal, Rajasthan, and slums. As if there was absolutely nothing else in such a huge huge country huh?

      I had no idea there was some yak cheese in India at all. I knew though that yak milk is drank in the Himalayas. It was definitely a great experience for me tasting some.

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