Rajya Metok - Tibetan Yak Cheese
The Tibetans have a name for yaks which roughly translates into "a wish granting gem that gives you everything you want."
The cheese itself may not be an old tradition... but the culture and people it breathes new life into is perhaps older than all of cheesemaking history. The yaks that produce this cheese have been grazing on the same pasturelands for over 40,000 years.. grazing naturally on dozens of plants and flowers growing in pure, unpolluted soil.
I think its pretty common knowledge that the people of Tibet have a hard fight to keep their culture and traditions alive... and the particular group of Tibetan nomads who produce the milk for this cheese are just that sort. With the Chinese invasion.. much of their culture was repressed.. their yaks were taken... their lifeblood.. generations of livelyhood... lost. In the 80's, the yaks were returned.. but much was forgotten. So along comes a monk with a vision to link the nomads back to their yaks... and at the same time be able to be self-sustained. And that vision was cheese. Sounds like my kinda monk!
From what I understand this is a very very new cheese... targeted specifically to a Western palate... the Tibetans themselves typically only use yak dairy for butter, yogurt, milk and apparently a very sour short lived cheese. But if this is a way to help give these people the ability to live the way they are accustomed to and preserve their traditions.. and I gain some yummy cheese out of it.. I am totally in.
So I totally rambled about that didnt I? I sort of accidentally stumbled upon this stuff on igourmet while shopping for some cheeses.... I was intrigued... and decided to do a little research. Not only is the cause behind the cheese a righteous one... but the cheese, and the cheesemaking process is like a curd-nerds dream come true. Animals free to roam under the sun, chewing happily on whatever their tastebuds drive them to... hand-milked by nomads who have been doing so for thousands of years.
So youre probably wondering how on earth it tasted? Just like that... it tastes of the earth. Dave looked at me like I was nuts when I told him it smelled almost like the inside of a stable.. hay... the musky scent of a large cloven animal. The texture is hard and grainy... much like a pecorino. Definitely a grating cheese. It does not melt on the tongue.. rather it sort of begins to crumble, and from what I read it has to do with the unique protein content in the cheese since the dri (a female yak) produces a milk with twice the protein and minerals of cow's milk. The flavor is very mild and milky at first... but give it a moment and the flavor intensifies into sharp and sweet. The lingering flavors afterwards are earthy, milky... perhaps even a little minty.
In the back is our wedge of yak cheese... we tasted this tonight with a Valençay we also ordered from igourmet.. I could do so much damage at that place I tell ya!