The name ""cege"" means sour horses’ milk in the language of the Mongolian Chinese. It is a traditional drink that dates back to the time of the Mongolian Empire (13th-14th century). In this part of China it is produced traditionally with the milk of white Mongolian horses, a very ancient local race that was described by Marco Polo in the Book of the Marvels of the World.
A good sour milk must be made with milk from horses reared free-range on the prairies of the uplands of the most western part of the Ujimqin region. This very region, in the Prefecture of Xilingol, is the source of premium sour milk.
In Mongolia, the horses live outside all year round, seeking food on their own and tolerating temperatures that vary from 30 °C in summer to −40 °C in winter. The traditional production period is from the beginning of June and ends at the end of September. The freshly milked product is filtered to remove any impurities. It is then poured into a container and a little previously fermented horse’s sour milk is added to initiate the fermentation process. After initial fermentation, a special wooden cross-shaped blender is attached to a machine called kedouji, used to agitate the milk. It is said that the process continues until the milk is stirred 10,000 times.
The traditional production method allows the sour milk to be conserved for around a week.
Cege is similar to kefir, but more alcohol is produced with fermentation as the horse’s milk contains more sugar than cow’s milk (around 40% more).
During fermentation, the lactose in the horse’s milk is converted into lactic acid, ethanol and carbon dioxide, becoming a nutritional food even for those who are lactose intolerant.
Fermentation was once in containers made from horse hair that were hung on the yurta, or the entrance to the home and shaken every so often, or attached to a saddle and shaken as the animal moved. Today wooden or plastic containers are used.
Cege is consumed as a food and thirst quenching drink or used for medicinal purposes.
The medicinal value of this product is due to its high lactic bacterial content. A local custom advises the consumption of 0.7 kg of sour horse’s milk for 21 days to purify the organism.
The preservation and promotion of cege as part of the Mongolian cultural heritage, also means protecting the race of white Mongolian horses that is now at risk of extinction because of their reduced milk productivity compared to other races.