Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mare's milk

"One of the great fallacies accepted over the years is that Mongolians drink yak's milk. They certainly keep yaks, thousands of them in great herds over the plains of the wilderness, but for their wool only. Yaks produce very little milk, though, and airag, the fermented drink so associated with the country, in fact comes from mare's milk. Nemo showed us how it was produced. The milk is poured into a bag made from a cow's stomach, which holds nearly 80 litres. About 10 per cent is kept back each time as a master culture, and it is refilled each day with fresh milk. The bag is stirred vigorously with a paddle every time someone passes, to incorporate the new milk with the old. If children misbehave, they are punished by having to paddle the milk for an hour, and any visitor entering the tent is also expected to give the bag a good stir as a thank-you for the hospitality. It reaches a strength of around 5 per cent and remarkably, Nemo told us, Mongolians can drink as much as 5 litres a day. It is little wonder that they also have one of the highest rates of liver cirrhosis in the world."
"He passed round a bowl so we each got to try some. It was noxiously dreadful drink, tasting as you would imagine a musty bowl of white horse piss should taste. Other products we were offered, all made from horse milk, were equally unpleasant: a tough, sour curd biscuit; a 'vodka' distilled from horse-milk yoghurt; and a couple of hard cheeses. One item, however, seemed to meet with universal approval: orum, a cream with a thick skin like clotted cream and made in a very similar way, by heating the milk in a pot over simmering water."
(Simon Majumdar in 'Eat My Globe: One man's search for the best food in the world,' p. 92 Hachette)

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