One of the planet's newest cheeses comes from one of its most prehistoric-looking animals, the yak. "It's as big as a cow but gives only as much milk as a goat. But what milk! Rich, sweet, fragrant milk from animals that breathe clean air, drink pure water and eat wildflowers. My first sip, out of a can in a saddlebag, with bits of butter in it that were churned by the motion of the horse I was riding, told me this milk had the soul of a fine cheese. All we had to do was help it find its way out."
Cheesemaker Jonathan White sings the praises of the yak, the source of Rajya Metok cheese, or "flower of Rajya" in Tibetan. Last summer, the Trace Foundation--a New Yorkbased nonprofit aimed at helping Tibetan communities in China--sent White, one of America's most celebrated food artisans and the founder of the legendary Egg Farm Dairy, to teach Tibetans how to make a quality cheese out of yak milk.
Tibet presented some new challenges for White. He discovered, for instance, that the Tibetans had a very different palate. "I had brought some aged cow cheese from New York for them to try. They smiled politely. They're slowly developing a taste for it, just like I developed a taste for 10-day-old yak meat," White says.