The Yak Cheese That Keeps on Giving

This past week P and I have been watching a few episodes of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern through Netflix before going to bed. The show kind of sucks you in because once you start watching you want to know what other crazy things this guy is going to put in his mouth.

Last night we watched episodes on Japan and Ethiopia. In Japan the host eats a lot of unusual and raw seafood, and while in Ethiopia he ate a lot of meats—raw camel liver, goat organs stuffed in ox intestines, stuff like that. While half the time I was thinking, “Man, how can he eat this stuff?” P was saying, “Hmm, that ox intestines looks pretty good… remember that time I ate camel in Kenya? It was so tasty! We need to go to Okinawa some time, I’d love to try that fish dish he just ate.”

When we finished the Ethiopia episode last night P said, “I should write to this guy and see if he would go with me to Nepal. I’d be happy to take him on a culinary adventure!” and he started brainstorming different Nepali foods he could feed Andrew. I added “churpi” to the list. P said, “That’s not a bizarre food” but yes, yes it is.

I added churpi to my mental list of blog posting topics last weekend when I saw a packet of churpi at AS and N’s house. It is one of those special Himalayan foods (found in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan) that you don’t find at regular Indian grocery stores, so it usually finds its way to our house in little plastic packages stuffed in the luggage of people traveling back and forth to visit family in Nepal.

Okay, I know what you are thinking, all this build up, but what the heck is “churpi”? According to Wikipedia, churpi is: “a dried smoked cheese… made from the milk of yak… It is prepared in a local dairy or at home from a material extracted out of buttermilk called sergem. The sergem is wrapped in cloth, usually jute bags, and pressed hard to get rid of water. Then, it dries out and becomes similar to cheese. Finally, in this cheese-like stage it is cut into pieces, and hung over the smoke to make it stone hard.”

Label from AS and N's bag of churpi. I like that it is described in English as "cheese candy." Rock hard cheese candy sounds so appetizing.

The emphasis is on the final part… “stone hard.” That is the special characteristic of churpi. It’s cheese that is so dried and smoked it doesn’t have to be refrigerated and could probably last 100 years because it is as hard as rock. The little inch long cube of yak cheese can take hours to chew. You bite it and suck on it and gnaw it for ages, actually I still have trouble believing you can actually ingest it. Of course, P loves it.

Being vegetarian I’ve tried to be more adventurous with non-meat foods because I’ve already limited my culinary choices by so much, so the first time I encountered churpi I was ready to give it a go. I love all kinds of cheese—going to cheese markets in Europe was a heavenly experience—and I eat fresh yak cheese in Nepal, so how different can dried yak cheese be? Well, imagine chewing on a lightly cheesy flavored chunk of hard resin for three hours. That’s kind of what eating churpi is like for me. You chew it, chew it, chew it, chew it, chew it, and then… eventually give up.

Chunks of churpi...

But it is one of those foods that is really different, and thus fun to give to unsuspecting victims. I’ve given chunks of churpi to co-workers and American friends to see what their reaction would be. It’s usually the same, “How is this cheese? It’s hard as rock!” One co-worker kept it in his desk for a year, never quite working up the nerve to try it.

It’s not bad, it’s just different. So that is my Nepali recommendation for Mr. Zimmern. If you go to Kathmandu, bring back a packet of churpi. It’s the yak cheese that keeps on giving.

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27 responses to “The Yak Cheese That Keeps on Giving

  1. I like to call it Nepali Jawbreaker. I gave it to a co-worker once when I got to the office in the morning & I was shocked when he asked me how long before he is done chewing at 5:30 as I was about to leave the office.

  2. My husband got a bag of this a couple months ago. I’m a pretty adventurous eater so I tried it. You’re right…I eventually gave up trying to finish it! I decided I’m not really a fan.

  3. You should ask S about his trip to the ER after a churpi incident. He had to do this CT scan and everything. I am not a big fan of churpi but I love the regular yak cheese! that’s the best cheese ever!

  4. Another food that is interesting to try is corsica cheese. It is ‘alive’ with the worms that live in it and wow! does it smell.
    Good news is if you taste a piece without the worms (which only arrive when it is really old) it does not taste as bad as it smells.
    D
    P.S. check out http://www.crazyparking.com my site that features fun photos from Nice, France if you would like to take a peek!

  5. It looks kind of like Parmesan…Bizarre Foods is my favorite show of all time!!

  6. Some churpis are soft , some are hard. The soft ones are cheesy, but the hard ones test your patience. Some people don’t even dare to try the hard ones.

  7. I wouldn’t mind trying it…I love anything with cheese in it!!

  8. I’ve heard somewhere (not sure where so credibility is uncertain) that chewing something 1,000 times is a way to reach enlightenment…
    perhaps this would be the item in which to chew if that were to be your goal….

  9. Yak cheese is good, but the soft kind! Churpi….hhhmm I might try it, but I’ll stay with the yack cheese that’s soft, I have had mozzarella made with yak milk it’s really good.

  10. Hmmm… does not sound appealing.

  11. It’s not that hard to crack a churpi. You just have to make sure it’s moist enough in your mouth and keep trying… :)
    The same thing with supari which I’m not a big fan of!!!

  12. that’s soo interesting. It looks a bit like toffee to me. I would love to go to Nepal one day :)

  13. I lived in Nepal for a few months one summer, and I too tried churpi. Not my favorite, but definitely fun to say you’ve tried it!

  14. I still have strings of churpi I got in Taplejung, while there in the Peace Corps 45 years ago. It looked ancient when I bought it.

  15. I am looking for a recipe for churpi! I haven’t found any. I need the hard kind that cracks your teeth. :-)

    Anyone know where I can find a recipe to make it myself? I don’t need a really good recipe, just one that will make a really hard product, and hopefully won’t be that difficult to do.

    • Karin,
      I don’t know any churpi recipes off hand, but if I find one, I’ll let you know. I googled around a bit, and it seems like you might be able to piece together a recipe based on some stuff that is out there. Good luck!

  16. If you found any links that you even think would be helpful, please let me know. I haven’t found anything I even thought might get me started in the right direction.

  17. My Nepali husband bought a bag of churpi 2 years ago – I tried one piece and am not a fan – that stuff is so indestructible I worry about breaking a tooth. Fresh yak cheese is wonderful – I haven’t been able to find it at any of the fancy-shmancy foodie stores in Manhattan but if I could buy it I wouldn’t mind paying a premium for it. Yak-cheese pizza or my favorite, yak-cheese ‘C’ momo…. OMG so good.

  18. ohh yes it is destructible, just dip the churpi in water for a sec and throw it in the microwave for 15 second , its comes out soft , not soft was a cheese but soft enough to finish chewing in an hour . i am not a fan of hard churpi but apply my technique and you will love it.

  19. Churpi is really nice and cheesy if its made of pure yak milk. Churpi is also made from yogurt and potatoes, for low cost of production. such churpi are not so tasty and cheesy and they are shit like a stone so boring while keep on chewing. But churpi made from pure yak milk are more tasty, cheesy and soft as you keep on chewing.
    I am from Nepal, recently living in Ireland for my study. My parents does churpi business in Nepal. Its been like 20 years now. I am doing some research in this particular food. I saw all the comments above about the different experience of the people while eating churpi. I also bought some 2 kilos of churpi to Ireland when I came here and distributed some of them to my BnB owner and some college friends. They even cant chew it for minute. At the same time i gave nearly 1 kilo churpi to one Nepali family they finished it next day and was asking me for more. My aim to tell all this incident is that churpi is totally new and strange food for western people so it might not be your favorable on the first try but some one who tried it for more time. I would say 70% out of 100 gonna love it. If you get churpi made from pure yak milk which is 100% pure, healthy with no additional flavor, no food coloring, no chemicals. Its really helpful for those who wants to quit smoking and chewing tobacco habits.

  20. Nutrition is one determining factor when it comes to health. It can be alternative option for people who hate chewing gum. Chewing gum daily for extended periods of time also has reported disadvantages. Having no time to slow down and rest appropriately, the stomach and intestines may become exhausted. So, concerns about stomach burns, ulcers and risks of different cancers arise.

  21. Churpis are the best , there is a way to make it soft , either bottle it for days that way the little moisture is locked in making the cheese SOFTER, or else just chuck it in the microwave for 5-7 seconds not more , let it cool down and eat it soft .

  22. i have heard stories where they say a churpi could help you keep alive and energised all day. it does help me keep awake lol

  23. Where can Purchase yak cheese in the Washington, DC area? I spent a couple of weeks in Nepal last year and about ate my weight in yak cheese. It was fantastic. Problem is I cannot find it here. Any suggestions?

  24. You can buy this as a dog treat. Search “churpi” or “Himalayan dog chew” on Amazon.

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