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A Load of Golok's Yaks May Become Big Cheeses in Export Industry

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/11/21; November 21, 2001.]

Sydney Morning Herrald 21 Nov 2001.

By John Schauble, Herald Correspondent in Beijing

The nomadic herders of Golok, high in the Himalayas, are devoted to their yaks. Their livelihood depends upon these big, shaggy beasts.

The nomads call their animals "wish-granting yaks", for they provide all their needs - hides and wool for warmth and shelter, meat and milk products for food, and even dried dung for fuel.

Now they will provide an export industry.

Think yak ... think edelweiss, subtlety and cheese says Jonathon White, a cheese maker from upstate New York. Mr White has just spent part of summer helping to train 15 ethnic Tibetans in the skills of making cheese as a part of a non-profit program to develop a viable industry in the remote Golok region in Qinghai.

It is a venture in which the cheese makers are truly blessed. The first phase last year involved a cheese workshop that was established at the Tashi Lai Nunnery and Retreat.

That venture provided work for 20 unemployed and a market for the excess milk of several nomadic yak-herding families.

A Buddhist monk, Jigme Jyantsen, is leading operations at Golok, where it is hoped any profits will be ploughed back into community works, such as schools, medical centres and an orphanage.

Mr White encourages farmers to use naturally produced, rather than factory feedlot, milk to make fine cheeses.

At Golok one of the main plants in the pasture is edelweiss, which gave the milk "a very delicate, subtle flavour," Mr White said. The resulting ripened, Western-style cheese has a gentle, sweet, herbal flavour, not unlike a mild gruyere. "There's a hint of yak there, but just a hint," he said.

The project has yielded little cheese so far. The total output this year will be only a few hundred kilograms. Once an export permit is secured from the Chinese Government, about 100 kilograms is destined for the United States, where it will attract a premium price.

With only 100 days of summer in the rarefied atmosphere of the Qinghai plateau, the window of opportunity is small. But the lush pastures produce more yak milk than can be consumed locally.

Until now the locals made only yoghurt, butter and a soft cheese from their surplus milk. It is similar to the situation in Switzerland 150 years ago that prompted the development of a Swiss cheese industry.

"Next year we will have three of these factories in Tibet," Mr White said.

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