If you are a big fan of dairy products, then Mongolia is for you!
For over thousands of years, Mongolian nomads have developed many different ways to process the milk into very unique dairy products. It is estimated that Mongolian nomads make about 150 different types of dairy products, including cheese, yogurt, curd, fermented drinks and many more. Cows, yaks, and mares are the main source of dairy products but depending on the region, goat, sheep and camel milks are used as well. Dairy production can last from mid-April till October as the livestock usually dry off by October when food becomes scarce. Much of the milk is conserved and preserved in a short season for later use, especially winter and spring. As the nomads life is sustained and dependent on the livestock and their main produce milk, milk is considered to be a sacred food in Mongolia. It is used in various rituals including the ritual of sprinkling milk into air as an offering to spiritual lords or sprinkling it onto a person, animal or object as an offering to the spirits for blessing or a protection.
Although has become a subject of much debate, Mongolian believe that milk and dairy products are great sources of protein, calcium and vitamins for people of all ages, and have been using them in great quantity for as long as Mongolian history goes. Dairy products are filled with essential vitamins and minerals, including carbohydrates, protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A, D, B12, riboflavin and niacin. Below is the list of most important dairy products made by the nomads in their own unique and traditional methods.
Aaruul (dry curd): is made by boiling yogurt. Around 10 liters of yogurt is boiled for 10-20 minutes and poured out into another pot. After cooling the boiled yogurt, it is put into a proper bag to decant and sour curd is pressed by heavy press (a stone or something similar is often used) for more than 10 hours. Subsequently, the dried product is sliced by thread into thin pieces and is put on the Ger (Yurt) for drying in the sun. No refrigeration is required for keeping aaruul and you can keep them in room temperature for more than 12 months without losing its quality.
Aarts (curd): Aarts is also made in a similar way as Aaruul, out of boiled yogurt. After the process of boiling, the liquid is put into a sack and left until all the liquid is dripped away. Aarts is usually kept frozen or in cool temperature, and can be directly consumed or boiled in a water to produce hot beverage in cold winter. Many Mongolians use this hot beverage to fight cold and flu during the winter.
Byaslag (cheese): is made by adding yogurt into fresh new milk, and heated over a gentle heat. The curdled milk is strained through cloth, then wrapped and placed between 2 flat heavy objects to remove the liquid. The end-product is usually a square white/yellowish cheese with unique flavor which if kept in right conditions, can be used for extended period of time without refrigeration.
Tarag (yogurt): is made by mixing fresh new milk with small amount of culture. In order to make yogurt, boiled milk is heated until warm and mixed with starter culture. After a good stir, the mixture is poured into a container and fermented in a warm condition for overnight.
Airag (fermented mare’s milk): One of the most favorite drinks of Mongolians and travelers alike. In order to ferment airag, mare’s milk is stirred over 3000 times to become fermented using a wooden instrument in a cow leather bag. Nomads milk the mares in every 2-3 hours throughout the day and fresh milk is added into the bag. Fermenting airag is an important chore for many countryside kids as the process takes a long period of time. Nutrition wise Airag is considered to be rich in B, C vitamins and calcium, and usually contain 3-4% of alcohol during fall when Airag is at its best.
AIRAG MAKING PROCESS
Urum (clotted cream or butter): Clotted cream or Urum is daily produced during summer time. Urum is made by boiling cow, sheep, goat, or yak milk while continuously ladling up the liquid and pouring it back into the pot, causing the cream to separate from milk and develop into froth. Pots need to be put in a cool place until the foam solidifies. Urum can be directly consumed or kept dried or frozen for later use.
Khailmag: In order to make Khailmag, Urum is melted on the fireplace in a pot adding little flour on it and stirred well. After a while it should be simmered. Liquid from this process is called shar tos and butter is Khailmag. Sugar can be added to make improve the taste.
Shimiin Arkhi (distilled vodka): is one of the most unique dairy product made by the nomads. Mongolians use yogurt to make Shimiin Arkhi. Fermented yogurt is put into a pot on a fireplace. Before making a fire, tools need to prepare for distilling. Then fill the pot with water and continue making fire. As soon as water in a pot is heated, change the water with cold one twice. On 1 distilling process, 1-5 liters of vodka is produced depending on a pot size.
While on a Mongolia tour, one usually have opportunity to taste many of the above mentioned dairy products, and some are even lucky to witness the dairy making process and learn to make some of them with their host family. If you planning to travel to Mongolia in the near future and interested in staying with a nomad family or become an expert in dairy making, check out the below tours or send us your unique request- we will make a custom-made program for you!
Related Mongolia tours: http://www.selenatravel.com/tours_to_mongolia/22/nomadic-family-stay#contentc
LIVESTOCK HERD IN A NOMADIC FAMILY HOME