Bhutanese enjoy the hardest cheese in the world like chewing gums

Email

The Bhutanese love their cheese. They even have one that’s arguably the hardest in the world.

The Bhutanese consume a lot of dairy. This is no surprise because Bhutan is cold, and dairy provides the warmth and strength necessary for survival.

Besides, the high altitude and closed economy makes it viable for rearing cows, yaks, sheep, and goats; livestock that provide dairy products.

But of all that dairy, there is one product that rules them all... cheese!

As a matter of fact, a Bhutanese experience is not complete without tasting their cheese.

Cheese in Bhutanese cuisine

The local term for cheese is datshi. Bhutanese love datshi in their cooking, from curries to tea and everything in between.

In fact, the national dish of Bhutan, Ema Datshi, is a spicy mix of chilies and datshi. This dish is a staple and can be found throughout the country. There are many variations of Ema Datshi that could include green beans, ferns, potatoes, or mushrooms.

Ema datshi

To make datshi, cold milk and water is added into a bucket.

The mixture is churned for 30 minutes until fresh yellow butter rises to the top.

The leftover buttermilk is then mixed with hot water and left to sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Soon, the datshi sinks to the bottom.

For those living in the mountains, it is a good source of protein, as well as a substitute for vegetables.

A woman making datshi.

Chugo, arguably the hardest cheese in the world

On another note, when you see the locals randomly chewing as they go about their daily lives, they are likely either munching on doma (betel nut), or gnashing on chugo.

Chugo, also known as chhurpi, is a type of hardened cheese popular in Bhutan.

It is made of yak’s milk.

You can find these hanging from strings in stores and marketplaces.

Apparently, in America, chugo is sold as special dog treats called “Himalayan Dog Chew''. A packet of 3 pieces can cost 50 USD. In Bhutan, it’s Nu. 70 (0.93 USD) a packet.

It seems like one man’s dog treats is another man’s feast, because in Bhutan, chugos are crazy popular, especially in the less-developed towns.

Chewing it early in the morning helps them keep warm. It is an acquired taste though.

It smells like yak—which might or might not be a desired trait in food—and is so hard that it takes 30 minutes to gnaw through. 

It is arguably known as the hardest cheese in the world.

One western tourist commented that she had the cheese in her mouth for ages during a long car ride through the Himalayas before it started to soften. She couldn’t bite into it at all until the cheese started to dissolve, which took a long time.

However, in spite of what foreigners think, chugo is to the Bhutanese what one might think of chewing gum. They suck on it as they live through their day, just for fun.

Having said that, one place with a slightly different version of chugo is Haa town, where the chugo is known as Haabey Ruto. Haabey Ruto does not have sugar, and is thus not sweet like those found in Bumthang and other parts of the country.

How is chugo made?

Making chugo is an onerous process.

First, raw milk is fermented in a warm area. Over a few days, fresh milk is added to the fermented one.

When the milk coagulates, it is churned in a cowhide container. This is done to separate the butter from the rest of the milk.

The liquid milk is poured into a bronze pot and brought to a boil over a stove while it is stirred occasionally.

The stirring is important because it is what yields the cheese.

Next, the cheese is wrapped in coarse yak cloth and sandwiched between two flat stones to squeeze out all the water.

After that, the cheese is sliced and strung with yak hair, then smoked over a fire.

Other cheese in Bhutan

Another cheese worth mentioning is Zetay (fermented) cheese.

This is used in cooking, like with the beef jerky below, adding extra taste to the dish.

Beef jerky with fermented yak cheese

Other than traditional Bhutanese cheese, swiss cheese is also available in Bhutan at the Bumthang Brewery and Cheese Factory. As the name suggests, it is both a brewery and a cheese factory; the two buildings are located side by side.

The place was founded by Fritz Maurer, a Swiss national who married a Bhutanese.

This cheese factory is the only commercial one in Bhutan. They produce an assortment of swiss cheeses, and you might even set eyes on the biggest cheese you’ve ever seen in your life!

A giant cheese

In recent years, the need for dairy products in Bhutan has reduced

Thanks to global warming, the Bhutanese don’t need as much dairy to keep warm. Similarly, due to development, they don’t need the kind of energy that their labourer forefathers needed.

Over time, this might have some gradual bearing on Bhutanese cuisine. Maybe one day, dairy won’t be a staple in Bhutanese food the way it is today.

But in the meantime, from the looks of it, cheese is here to stay, and will continue to be for a very long time.



Related Posts

In the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, are Bhutanese mostly...

Many foreigners perceive Bhutanese to be mostly vegetarians owing to its status as a Buddhist kingdom.

Apr 14, 2021 14:30

What are some of the Bhutanese beliefs and superstitions

For a country deeply rooted in spirituality, you will find Bhutanese especially the Buddhist rely on astrology for major...

May 25, 2021 11:17

Khata: The multipurpose Bhutanese scarf

“Khatas are the Buddhist equivalent of a hallmark card.” —Married to Bhutan by Linda Leaming

Apr 29, 2021 10:53

Traditional costumes of Bhutan and the evolution of kira

The Kingdom of Bhutan is unique for many reasons, but one peculiarity that sets them apart is their dress code.

Apr 21, 2021 11:25

The popularity of hot springs and hot stone baths in Bhutan

In Bhutan, hot springs and hot stone baths play significant roles in Bhutanese lives.

Apr 05, 2021 23:58

The reason why Bhutan is a kingdom infused with deep spirituality

Most Bhutanese grow up listening and reading stories of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Guru Rinpoche. Although hugely...

Mar 30, 2021 15:02

Latest

News

The sacrifice of an extraordinary King in these difficult times

“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” – John Wooden

Jun 14, 2021 16:57

Bhutan is hopeful of lifting restrictions on tourism after second dose of COVID-19 vaccination

It’s been 9-week since the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Bhutan.

Jun 04, 2021 13:20

Features

RENEW's Livelihood Project: Lighting up the lives of women

Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck founded RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women) in 2004.

Jun 17, 2021 11:32

6 reasons to get your very own 'Bhutan: Travelog'

A book that will tell you everything you need to know, see, taste, do, and enjoy in Bhutan? Take my money!

Jun 16, 2021 12:37

Business

Support authentic Bhutanese handicrafts by local artisans

Whether you are interested in artisanal Bhutanese handicrafts or boutique sourced products with contemporary touch, the incredible...

Mar 25, 2021 12:09

Authentic Bhutanese Souvenirs from Eastern Bhutan

Every district and village produce distinct products in Bhutan. To encourage rural communities to produce more authentic souvenirs and...

Dec 25, 2020 22:13

Sports

What's with the unique archery culture in Bhutan?

In Bhutan, archery is more than just a sport. It is a way of life. The dancing, the singing, the drinking—it is a manifestation of the...

Apr 19, 2021 10:40

Contributing to the country through the love for football

It's been a month since the conclusion of Bhutan Premier League 2020. Daily Bhutan interviews Paro FC to find out more about the club. Below...

Dec 21, 2020 17:05

Travel

Bhutan is the perfect destination for luxury travel

The definition of 'luxury travel' has changed because of COVID-19.

Jun 01, 2021 18:32

8 most popular festivals in Bhutan that you should check out

Bhutanese festivals are colourfully vibrant affairs that draw crowds from all over the world.

May 14, 2021 17:15

Lifestyle

What are some of the Bhutanese beliefs and superstitions

For a country deeply rooted in spirituality, you will find Bhutanese especially the Buddhist rely on astrology for major events in life....

May 25, 2021 11:17

Khata: The multipurpose Bhutanese scarf

“Khatas are the Buddhist equivalent of a hallmark card.” —Married to Bhutan by Linda Leaming

Apr 29, 2021 10:53

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!