Since we pour cheese on almost everything, we often don’t give very much thought to where it comes from. Most of us are happy to accept the status quo of cow, sheep and goat - with the exception of a few mad vegans desperately trying to blend cashews. But the reality is that we’re all closing ourselves off to countless cheese making possibilities. Afterall, where there is milk, cheese will surely follow.
Fortunately, there are communities around the world who, whether by luck or design, have perfected the art of odd animal cheese production. These cheeses might seem strange to a casual observer, but they’re really no weirder than what we all grate onto our pasta. Here are seven animals that you won’t believe you can make cheese from.
Beef might be everywhere, but cows don’t grow on trees. Some places are too hot, cold, wet or dry for a proper dairy industry to thrive, so human populations have to get creative when it comes to cheese. One such area is Scandinavia. Here, locals have perfected the art of harvesting reindeer milk to transform into nutrient dense and delicious cheese for a variety of traditional dishes - despite the fact that reindeer are notoriously difficult to milk.
Strange cheese doesn’t have to come from tradition. Moose cheese, which didn’t exist at all until relatively recently, is the brainchild of Elk House Farm in Sweden, where three lactating moose are milked for five months every year to provide the entire world’s moose milk supply. Now eaten across northern europe, moose cheese is said to be extremely rich and creamy.
The most expensive cheese in the world comes not from a fancy farm in northern France, but from a field full of donkeys in Serbia. Pule, or donkey cheese, has an international reputation for excellence and sells for about $1,000 per pound. Made from endangered Balkan donkeys, this cheese is considered to be one of the most luxurious items on earth.
In central Asia, no animal is more central to daily life than the horse. As a beast of burden, transport and a food source, horses are absolutely indispensable. Horse cheese, or airag, is produced during foaling season when fresh mare’s milk is mixed with the remains of the previous year’s airag and gradually stirred outside a yurt over a period of many days. The resulting cheese can be eaten fresh or dried.
Way up in the Andes, where no cow could survive, alpacas rule the roost. Local people use them for everything from clothing to fuel, so it makes perfect sense that they would also be at the epicentre of South American cheese making. Despite being famously tricky to milk, alpaca cheese is richly salty and a popular addition to local markets.
They may look odd, but there are more to camels than meet the eye. Milked by the nomadic tribesmen of North East Africa for centuries, camel milk is far more nutritious than its bovine counterpart, and can be used to make a sour, pungent and powerful cheese.
It might be a little nauseating, but at the end of the day we’re all mammals too. That means that, with a little bit of imagination, human cheese can be a reality. This theory became scientific fact thanks to the pioneering work of New York chef Daniel Angerer, who managed to turn his wife’s breast milk into a hard, crumbly cheddar-like substitute, with apparently delicious results.
For now, cheesy conservatives need not worry. There is little likelihood of supermarket shelves becoming flooded with anything other than the normal selection of melty goodies anytime soon. But, if we do get desperate for a little something extra with which to top our pasta, it’s good to know that alternatives are available.