China isn’t exactly known for its cheese, which is why the discovery of the world’s oldest curds in a tomb in northwestern China is particularly surprising.
The site, which was discovered in 1934 but forgotten until excavation started in 2003, is the final resting place of a mysterious Bronze Age people. The dead were found tightly wrapped and interred in wooden, boat-like structures with mysterious crumbs scattered around their necks. Analysis of the fat and protein content in these crumbs determined it was the world’s oldest cheese; the findings will be published in forthcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
According to USA Today, the curds date to as early as 1615 B.C.—more than 1,500 years before the Greeks started making feta. The Chinese cheese appears to have been a lactose-free variety (which makes sense considering that up to 90 percent of people of East Asian descent are lactose-intolerant).
That said, Asia is a diverse continent, and it’s home to many cheese-making cultures (so to speak). Here are a few treats that may send you across the globe in search of curds.
1. Chhena (Nepal, Bangladesh, and Northern India)
Photo credit: Flickr/Devika_smile
Made from cow’s milk or water buffalo milk, Chhena is a smooth, soft-curd cheese. It’s often used to make desserts such as the cream-topped sweets called rasgulla in the picture above, which look absolutely adorable.
2. Chhurpi (Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet)
Photo credit: Flickr/rivalslayer
Chhurpi comes in two varieties: hard and soft. Even if you like hard cheeses, hard chhurpi sounds like a bit much. This yak’s milk cheese is hard. Very hard. According to Cooksinfo.com, after a drawn-out production process the cheese “ends up as hard as a piece of chalk.” Yum.
The soft stuff sounds more accessible, texture-wise. It’s a white cheese with mild-to-strong flavor, and is traditionally eaten in curries over rice.
3. Kesong Puti (Philippines)
Photo credit: Wikimedia
The Filipino town of Santa Cruz is known for its kesong puti, a white, unaged cheese made from the milk of carabao, a type of water buffalo. It has a slightly salty flavor, and a whole festival is devoted to it in the Philippines.
4. Rushan (China)
Photo credit: Flickr/Zarrin Maani
Rushan is a cow’s milk cheese made by members of the Bai ethnic group, who live mainly in China’s Yunnan Province. It’s popular to stretch it into thin sheets, fry it or grill it, then roll it onto a stick. Several websites compare its taste to mozzarella.
5. Rubing (China)
Photo credit: Flickr/goodiesfirst
The Bai people also make rubing, a goat’s milk cheese resembling halloumi in texture. Food Republic describes its flavor as “alpine barnyard.”
We’ll try anything once. Just so long as we can chase it with a hunk of Gruyère.