On the border of Europe and Asia, Kazakhstan boasts a cuisine that has been influenced by many. One of the influences that can still be found in Kazakh cuisine is connected to groups of nomad shepherds; they migrate and move through the various regions of the country in search of water and areas where their animals can graze. They get their food supply from the animals which must last over the seasons and withstand long trips.
Kurt is a traditional product that belongs to the Kazakh culture. It is made by drying fermented milk, from which yogurt is also obtained.
The milk that is used is obtained from sheep or mares and the entire qurt making process involves the whole family group, with each person playing a specific role. Right after milking, the milk is put in a container and left to go sour. When it becomes thick, the oldest female, often helped by children, works the fermented milk to make its characteristic round shape, the size of an apricot.
All of the balls are then left to dry outdoors, above a cloth or on the roofs of the tents where the nomads sleep. Once dried, the qurt is stored inside cloths, making it easier to transport.
It is very salty and often is dissolved in kumis (a beverage made from sour mare milk) or in water before being consumed. It is considered an excellent source of calcium, so mothers often give their babies small pieces of it.
Kurt can be eaten in very different ways: given the scarcity of milk during the winter, it is eaten like a snack or added to soups or meat stews.
The nomad lifestyle has been subject to increasing restrictions since the 1800s, which have become more and more accentuated until they were forced to become sedentary during the Soviet period. At present there are few nomad communities and most are composed of the elderly; for these reasons qurt runs the risk of disappearing.