For What It’s Worth

Cheese comes from where?

Okay, cheese lovers, you may have missed reading about it, but that rare delicacy, pule cheese, is no longer in limited supply. It’s in no supply. A few weeks ago Novak Djokovic, the world’s number one men’s tennis player, bought up the entire 2013 supply to have as a key attraction in a chain of restaurants he is opening in his homeland of Serbia.

Wait, did you just ask what pule is? And I thought you liked cheese. Surely, you are not one of those who opens the refrigerator, pulls out a round or rectangular block of yellow cheese and immediately pictures a contented cow chewing her cud while lying in a field of green grass and basking in the sun, perhaps with a mountain in the background. How gauche. That’s just one step above looking at a yellow brick of cheese and wondering why it’s yellow when cow’s milk is white.

No, that’s not you. You are truly a cheese aficionado and as soon as you saw the word pule, the picture that came to mind was not a cow—it was a donkey. That’s right, a donkey. For those of you who see cheese as method of making crackers have more flavor or part of a command from a relative trying to get you to smile for a picture, pule is donkey cheese. That’s not a nickname for it; that’s its source identity. Stated simply: pule is cheese made from donkey’s milk.

You didn’t know there was such a thing? I wouldn’t go braying that around if I were you. Not only is donkey cheese considered a rare delicacy (rare wouldn’t come close to being the right words at our house), it’s a heap sight more expensive than that $3 8-oz. brick of extra sharp cheddar in your fridge. Cheapskate! Slobodan Simic, manager of the Zasavica cheese company in Serbia where donkey cheese is made, said the white (note that it is the color of donkey milk), crumbly cheese sells for between $1,700 and $2,900 a pound on the open market. And you thought three bucks for a half pound was high. The World Record Academy says pule has set a new record for the most expensive cheese. Maybe it’s time to practice milking and buy some jennies (that’s female donkeys, city folks).

Buying donkeys probably wouldn’t work out. The Zasavica farm in Serbia is said to be the only place in the world where donkeys are milked for cheese. The farm also produces bottled donkey milk and bars of soap produced from the liquid. I’ll pass on the soap. Might bite into a bar of it thinking it was cheese.

Mr. Simic, seeing a great marketing opportunity, decided to sell one batch of pule at $600 a pound, a bargain too good for Mr. Djokovic to pass on. So, he bought the entire 2013 supply of pule, which has been described as being similar to Spanish manchego, another cheese delicacy served in his restaurants.

What? You don’t know what Spanish manchego is? Oh, my! It’s not made from donkey’s milk, which you may be relieved to know, nor from cow’s milk. It comes from sheep’s milk. But not the garden variety of sheep you see at the county fair or a child’s petting zoo. No way. Manchego, officially Queso Manchego, is a cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of Manchega breed sheep. That chunk of cheddar cheese in your fridge is rapidly losing flavor, right?

Not to be outdone by some uppity breed of sheep in Spain or a select few donkeys in Serbia, goats also are a common source of cheese. Please, goat lovers, I’m not calling goats common, I’m only indicating that most of us know about goat cheese. We can order it on our Greek salads or, in a few places, on our pizza. Actually, that cheese on your Greek salad is probably Feta, a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk. Goats can be proud because their milk is more similar to human milk than is cow’s milk (hope that doesn’t make the cow you envisioned earlier spit her cud) and their milk and cheese are preferred dairy products in much of the world outside the U.S.

I’m concerned that you may think cheese comes only from cows, contented or otherwise; Serbian donkeys; goats, domestic or foreign; or special Spanish sheep. No, my friend, cheese comes from several mammals. Here’s a look at a few.

Camels—While cheese from camel’s milk might not be your choice for a dessert, it might be good for desert food. When ordering, you might have to decide between one hump or two.

Mares—I’m not horsing around here. Cheese is made from mare’s milk, especially in Turkey, which may explain why Turkey is known for its fierce warriors.

Reindeer—I think I’ll leave this cheese to Santa Claus.

Water buffalo—One description I read of cheese made from water buffalo milk described it as a flavor with a hint of almonds. Think I’ll just stick to eating roasted almonds.

Yak—Not a cheese you are likely to find on your grocery shelf; but, if you happen to be in Tibet, you can dine on it, then come and yak to us about how it tastes.

Next time you put out a plate of cheese and crackers, slap a slice on a sandwich, or pick up a piece of pizza with cheese hot enough to burn your tongue, you may wonder if you are eating something from the nectar of cows, sheep or goats. Probably one of them, but odds are good that the cheese won’t have come from donkeys, camels or water buffalo. Happy eating.

And, next time someone asks you to look at the camera and say, “Cheese,” will your response be a grin or a grimace?

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7 Responses to For What It’s Worth

  1. Cindy Kittler says:

    So are you going to start a new saying to replace “Don’t cry over spilled milk?” Perhaps something like “Don’t pule over dropped cheese?” Yes, I know, that’s baa-d. But I’m your daughter, after all.

  2. Donna says:

    Very interesting information…and I’m not much of a cheese person (except in the area of posing for photos).

  3. Cindy Kittler says:

    I could continue to yak, but maybe I butter stop. Did the cows come home?
    “Cheese.” 🙂

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