Tuva Yak Cheeses

Ark of taste
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Tuva Yak Cheeses

Mongun-Taiga is a remote area in the west of the mountainous Republic of Tuva in north-eastern Asia. In this region, 250 families of nomadic shepherds live in yurts (tents covered with sheep wool), tending herds of yaks. Yaks are ancient wild bisons with long fur that live in a wild state in the mountains. They can stand the cold: here, at over 3000 meters altitude, the temperature can go as low as 50° C below zero. The shepherds, or chabans, use the yak milk to produce different types of cheeses: Byshtak, Kurut and Aarji. The cheeses of Tuva are at risk of extinction for various reasons. First, because the number of the young people who are willing to lead a nomad life is constantly decreasing. Secondly, the yak are disappearing (the population dropped from 50,000 in 1994 to 8,000 today). Finally, the majority of Tuva cheese production is destined for family use. The Presidium will work to help these nomadic cheese producers in obtaining of the necessary certificates for the commercialization of their cheese products and yak meat. Byshtak is a sort of a round cheese made of raw milk collected during the morning and the evening milking. Coagulated with plant-derived rennet (extracted from local willow trees), Byshtak cheese has a straw-yellow crust and a body flavored with herbs, flowers, and lemon. The curd is white, and the taste is fresh with notes of milk and yogurt. Tuva cheese is produced with the simplest and most ancient techniques. First, the warmed milk is mixed with whey. The milk is curdled, and the coagulated mass is gathered into a gauze and left drain off for half an hour. Later, the cloth-wrapped curd is covered with a piece of wood and pressed for three or four hours. The whey that comes out of Byshtak production (called Saryksy) is kept apart to make a new curd for a future Byshtak. Kurut and Aarji cheeses are made with a type of distillation extraction of fermented milk: an unusual technique unique to Central Asia. These ‘distilled’ cheeses are strong tasting, and with aging they become almost rocklike. The Tuvans eat them by sucking slowly this granite-hard cheese. This unusual food is s fundamental source of protein for the nomad life – they say in Tuva that a leather sack of Kurut will feed a shepherd for six months.

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Tuva republic

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Milk and milk products

Nominated by:Yury Stolpovsky