Many of our customers visiting Tibet and other Tibetan areas such as northern Yunnan, western Sichuan and Qinghai experience food and drinks made from yak milk and meat for the first time. Among the most popular you'll find: butter tea, yak yoghurt, yak jerky and even yak burger. We all know dairy products are traditionally not part of most Asian cuisines, so on a recent trip to Shangri-La we were very surprised to try local cheese made from yak milk because we would have never expected the taste to be so appealing to Western palates!
We tried two kinds of cheese named Shangri-La Premier and Geza Gold that are produced in the Mei Xiang Cheese Factory (美香奶酪), founded in 2004 in Langdu Village of the Diqing Tibetan Autonomus Region in Yunnan by a local Tibetan family. In the Geza area, where Langdu is located, there are more yaks than anywhere else in Yunnan. The factory is putting yak milk to innovative use, producing dairy products unique to this region and supporting local herders' incomes.
It all started with a brilliant idea of Ventures In Development, a US non-profit organization with the mission of alleviating poverty and opening new markets for sustainable development. In conjunction with CERS (China Exploration and research Society), they invited cheese expert Professor Ranee May from University of Wisconsin to help locals learn western cheesemaking techniques.
The idea was to use local yak milk - which has better nutritional value and higher levels of healthy fats than cow milk - to boost the local economy and raise the living standards. The process took about two years. The result was the creation of these two delicious Western-style cheeses.
Shangri-La Premier is a semi-soft, white cheese with a mild taste that reminds of Halloumi cheese and it's ideal for cooking. Geza Gold is modeled after an italian Asiago recipe; aged for at least two months, it has a strong, salty flavour, making it perfect to eat on its own or to serve with pasta.
The milk is directly sourced from over forty local families keeping yaks. The cheese is free of preservatives, artificial flavouring, hormones and antibiotics. It's processed with salt and aged in local red tree bark.
Thanks to the success of these two cheeses, the company now produces a whole line of yak cheeses and butter and sells them in special specialty stores in Shangri-La, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Taiwan.