Dairy before dawn

Updated: 2013-08-08 00:32

By WANG KAIHAO in Zhenglan Banner, Inner Mongolia (China Daily)

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Dawn has not yet broken.

In Zhenglan Banner, in the Inner Mongolian autonomous region, Togo, a 50-year-old woman of the Mongolian ethnic group, has already begun her work for the day.

The workshop is a little dark and the sweet smell of milk is in the air.

"I have to get up early," she says, stirring milk in a huge heated pot. "It is the best time to make dairy."

Although Togo comes from a rural area, she does not dress in traditional Mongolian robes, instead she wears fashionable, modern attire. But she sticks to the traditional ways when it comes to milk.

Togo uses charcoal instead of gas for the fire because it makes the heat easier to control, which she says is essential to get the best flavors.

The milk has been stored in basins for two days and has fermented into yogurt. When it becomes very thick, Togo uses a stick to knead it until it forms into the soft dough-like horood, commonly known as dairy tofu. It takes 10 kilograms of milk to make 1kg of horood.

I am lucky to try a Mongolia breakfast: a bowl of horood and a cup of milk tea with parched rice. Horood is very chewy, reminding me of gum at first bite.

As the cultural center of ancient Chahar clan, Zhenglan Banner preserves traditional Mongolian dairy food. Horood used to be an important tribute to Manchu royal families during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Togo began to learn to make horood at the age of 17. She is the third generation in her family to do the job full-time. Processing traditional Chahar dairy products, called chagan ider in Mongolian, is now listed as one of the local intangible cultural relics, and Togo is the item's inheritor.

Togo says she rarely has days off. She makes 25 kg of horood every day, but that amount is far from meeting market demand.

Horood is only a small part of what this dairy family produces. A concreted skin floating on heated yogurt is another Mongolian delicacy. There is also cheese, butter, and many more varieties of snacks made by milk. The sour liquid skimmed from horood will later be distilled into a famous spirit.

Togo could probably make a banquet solely from milk.

"It is Mongolian ethnic group's philosophy," she smiles. "Everything presented by the nature is useful. We waste nothing."

Yang Fang contributed to this story.