Airag: Milk ‘n’ cheese from the stable

If you think that the cows and buffaloes are the only cheese makers, then you had better think again. Airag, the traditional beverage of Central Asia is made out of fermented mare’s milk. This beverage was formulated by the Tatars and was first made from the Tatars horses and yeast. Later on Mongolian herd-people made airag or kumis out of the locally bred mares.

Kumis or airag is traditionally made by milking the mare and storing their milk in bags made of horse hides called as ’saba’. This milk is churned by a long wooden stick, for a 1000 times, and the fermentation process starts in the night, imparting a mild alcoholic taste to the drink. This is industrially made by adding a lactose mixture and a yeast and brown sugar mixture to the milk alternately. The milk mixture is then poured into very strong bottles, which can bear a temperature of 50-60 degrees Fahreheit. These milk bottles are wrapped in several layers of cloth, to prevent CO2 build-up. A great deal of care is taken when it is prepared in the bottles, like shaking the milk gently for preventing the coagulation of casein. By this process the kumis gets ready in three to four days.

Now you may call this as weird…Kumis is used to make cheese, yoghurt; and it is distilled by the Mongolians to produce a “shimii-airag” or a clear spirit. This is wow! I remember I had goat’s milk once, while I was a kid. I do not know how this liquor would taste, but I can bet on the milk, it looks yummy.

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