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Making Cheese with my Ama-le

Let me introduce you to my Ama-le, a sweet beautiful woman living in the small village of Taar, Ladakh. She lives alone in a small house equipped with the basics, a tea room/kitchen always sure to be stocked with steaming mint tea and apricot seeds, a beautiful garden so healthy and lush it can make a non-gardener want to start a farm, and a cheese making contraption in the hallway ready to go at a moments notice. Our Ama-le has three cows which she milks and feeds regularly. The milk produced goes to make many things such as yogurt that we would have along side meals, milk to be added to milk tea, and butter to make her famous butter tea. One day of our stay we had the amazing opportunity of helping her with this process. In the hallway, attached to a pole there were two ropes that anchored a large paddle that was inserted into a large ceramic jug filled with milk (or oma in Ladakhi). A strap with two handles was attached to the paddle and you alternated pulling each side towards you to spin it. We took turns pulling to first make butter (mar). After some time she added in some liquid to the container which helped separate it into the chunks of butter. After doing so, you were left with the remaining buttermilk (tara). She went into the kitchen and got a bowl and filled it to the brim with the Tara for me to drink. Liana, being lactose intolerant, was not able to help me drink the sour tasting chunky liquid so I did my best please Ama-le by finishing it. She took the remaining Tara and boiled it on the stove outside to make labo which is a cottage cheeses made from tara. She let us try some of the dried labo she had made called churpe which is added to soups to make it more hearty. It was rock hard and had a faint taste of cheese. At the end of the day were were surprised to see the many products produced in each step of the process. I am so thankful of the time I was able to spend with Ama-le and the wonderful things she taught us during our stay!