Holiday Scout posted on 05 June 2017The craft of cheesemaking came to Arunachal Pradesh together with Tibetan Buddhist culture over 2000 years ago. Nomadic herdsmen once stored milk in animal skin bags where it was allowed to ferment, a step in the process which remains very similar today. Raw milk from animals that graze on pristine pastures and the seasoned hands of herdsmen or Brokpas are all that go into the making of ‘Chhurpi’, the ultimate organic cheese.
Many Brokpas are still semi-nomadic, moving with their herd across alpine meadows and taking shelter in simple huts. And the ones who make cheese often do so in cabins that are far away from the nearest village. So we were lucky to meet a cheesemaking Brokpa staying for the winter months in 4-Kilo, a hamlet located on the outskirts of Tawang.
Sangey Norbu and his wife welcomed us warmly into their humble abode. An open hearth took up a large part of the single room where we sat on low stools and were served hot butter tea that was rich and sweet. Then after drinking his, the Brokpa began his story.
For years, Sangey has been herding yaks and turning their milk into cheese by a method handed down in his family over the generations. He recalled how earlier, Chhurpi was like currency and was used to barter. And even today, the best cheese is gifted to Lamas as a sign of gratitude for their blessings.
The Brokpa continued, telling us that while some now use a machine to make the cheese, Chhurpi made the traditional way is still widely deemed superior. He then described for us in detail how he goes about fermenting, scalding, draining and finally ripening the cheese, showing us all of the various utensils used.
Ultimately, the cheese is wrapped in a skin where it stays for up to two years. But this amount of aging is very rare – because there are so many orders to be filled!
Young Chhurpi is soft like ricotta while older Chhurpi is hard and has the consistency of parmesan. The more aged the cheese, the more odiferous it becomes. It would therefore never be found on a cheese board, but features very prominently in Arunachali cooking.
Tags: Crafts, Cultural Preservation, Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang, Brokpa, Chhurpi, Cheesemaking, Discovery