Chhurpi is a hard cheese made by Indian pastoralists in the Himalayan region, particularly in high altitude areas. It can also be found in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. It is prepared in the home or in the herder’s hut (goth) from skimmed milk or buttermilk. The milk is boiled, and the solid mass that is obtained is separated from the liquid, wrapped and hung in a thin cloth to drain out excess liquid. It is then cut into strips, smoked and dried. Dry chhurpi is usually consumed by being re-moistened in the mouth and then chewed like gum, but sometimes it is powdered and used as a condiment in soups. Chhurpi was a way for pastoralists, especially mobile pastoralists in the high altitude areas, to make maximum use of their daily production of milk. Since they were remotely located, and moving fresh milk to markets on a regular basis was impossible, they developed products that could be prepared and stored for long periods. They would remove the fat to be made into butter and the rest of the milk would be processed into chhurpi, which can last for a very long time. This could then be traded when the need or opportunity arose. The product is available for sale in the market and makes an alternative to chewing gum and betel nut. Across Nepal and the Indian Himalayas, chhurpi is also used like currency in the absence of small change. Most chhurpi is consumed locally, though it is popular with trekkers and is increasingly being sold in supermarkets abroad. There are no recent or reliable estimates on the production of chhurpi today, although there is a general decline as pastoralism is declining everywhere. This can be attributed to the creation of protected areas and the ban on free grazing across the Sikkim and Darjeeling Himalayas. In Darjeeling, herders and their stock (yaks, yak hybrids) were evicted for the creation of two protected areas. The second reason relates to challenges within the pastoral communities and generational change. There is a general decline as traditional pathways for seasonal movement are enclosed, protected areas are created, yak numbers decline and children opt out of herding as a profession.
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