Chhurpi: the world’s hardest cheese come from Nepal.
Chhurpi, Nepali: छुर्पी, (or Durkha) is a traditional Nepalese cheese that has been a means of survival for many remote communities for centuries. Made out of the milk of yaks, or chauri (a crossbreeding between a yak and a cow), it comes in two varieties – soft and hard. The soft variety is usually consumed as a side dish with rice, as filling for traditional dumplings, or also as a soup. But it’s the hard variety that makes chhurpi famous all over the world. Probably you’ve tried hard cheeses before, but this is as hard as a rock, so you can’t even bite into it for at least an hour or so. In the mountainous regions of Nepal, Darjeeling hills, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet, chhurpi is consumed as a substitute for vegetables because it is an excellent source of protein.
Soft chhurpi is made by heating the milk to 76 degrees Fahrenheit, then separating the buttermilk and boiling it to lower the water content. The obtained mass is wrapped and hung in a thin cloth to drain out the water.
To prepare the hard variety, the soft chhurpi is wrapped in a jute bag and pressed hard to get rid of any excess of water. Then, the block is cut into smaller chunks that are hung over fire to harden it further.
In its final form, hard chhurpi is literally impossible to bite into. It’s as tough as a rock, so you need to soften it up before you even try chewing it. Most people keep it in their mouths for hours, regularly chewing on the outer layers as they gradually soften. Munching through a small block of chhurpi the size of a toffee candy can take as long as two hours, and the amazing thing is that the cheese maintains its flavor during all that time.
As you can imagine, even the soft parts that you manage to bite into aren’t exactly tender, so you can chew on them like chewing gum before swallowing them.
Despite eating a small block of chhurpi sounds more like a chore, the cheese’s high protein content have ensured Nepalese communities survival in the country’s harsh mountainous environment for centuries, so it’s an important part of local culture. You can find it in nearly every small market at extremely affordable prices (around 5 cents per cube).
Curious fact, because it’s so high in protein and so hard to chew through, hard chhurpi has become a popular dog treat in many parts of the world.
All images from Wikipedia.