Tibetan Yak Cheese Controversy?!
I e-mailed Jonathan White's LA Times article to my friend Zara Houshmand, who replied:
"In the Lhasa Moon Tibetan Cookbook that I wrote with Tsering Wangmo, there are traditional recipes for a fresh cheese called chuship, essentially hung yoghurt, and a very hard dried cheese called churkam which is made from chuship, and a mold ripened blue cheese called churu which is made from boiled yoghurt--also traditional recipes for soup, dumplings, and a sweet
pasta dish that use these cheeses as essential ingredients. He may be quibbling over the definition of cheese, but these things all qualify as similar in process and results to other things we call cheese. He does mention hearing about the blue cheese, and also "chura, which can be either dried yogurt or dried buttermilk solids". That sounds like cheese to me.
The only thing I can think of which fits that description but is not really cheese-like is something called kashk in Iran, which is whey (usually, I think, from hung yoghurt) that's evaporated into a thick, slightly grainy paste and added to soups or to a particular eggplant dish. I've showed it to Tibetans and they liked it (most westerners barf at the taste) but it was not at all familiar to them.
"It would be totally nuts to imagine a nomadic herding culture that hadn't developed cheese in some form, and there's certainly a cultural continuum from Tibet to other parts of central Asia that definitely have cheese. (I ate plenty of it in Uzbekistan, but I'm not sure what was traditional and what was Russian influence.)"
Zara issued an invitation to Jonathan to have dinner with her and Tsering at Lhasa Moon and discuss matters.
What do you think? Is this a quibble, or is Jonathan putting a spin on the story to sell more cheese?