Chinese Cheese

I love Chinese food and I love cheese. That had me thinking today … how come I don’t see cheese featured on the Chinese food menu? Is there such a thing as Chinese cheese? My kids are always commenting how everything seems to come from China. They are pretty astute. But we have yet to see Made in China on a package of cheese.

Over time I have done a lot of reading about cheese and nobody has yet to mention a famous Asian cheese. The Chinese have a rich culture and an amazing culinary development … except for cheese. Are there no cows in China?

That leaves me wondering and a Googling I go.

As I read through blogs and web sites the general consensus seemed to be  – no cheese in China. Here is a reply from Rhonda to a similar question on a forum. Her perspective was as follows.

I’m on shaky ground here, but I’ve never heard of cheese being used in Chinese cooking.  Several Indian and Philippino dishes are made with cheese. In India, the cheese (called panir or chenna) is not aged and fermented, but fresh and often home-made. You’ll see it in spicy dishes. Cheese is often used in Philippine breads and cakes. – Rhonda

I don’t know who Rhonda is, nor what she knows about cheese or China, but that sure is interesting. It is aligned with my observation so far. Further on I came across another opinion.

I think I can help here. Many years ago I visited Hong Kong, where I found a type of Chinese cheese in the markets, made from bean curd cubes. I saw two types – red bean curd cheese and white bean curd cheese. They were fermented in rice wine and salt, and you could buy them in cans or jars.

I never did find out how Chinese cheese is used, although I would think you could substitute it in any tofu recipie. Not sure if it’s available in the States either.

Have a nice day.

Interesting … Bean Curd Cheese? I’m sorry but isn’t cheese a dairy product? Doesn’t there have to be milk involved? I think bean curd cheese is a stretch and that one is not on my gotta-try-it list. I can just imagine serving that at my next dinner party on the cheese plate. My guests commenting “Oh this is such a lovely cheese. I’ve never had this before. What is it?” I would then have to respond ” It’s Chinese bean curd cheese” and then lunge for a towel to wipe the bean curd cheese spray off the wall from their mouth.

Well to be fair, since I’ve haven’t tried it, I shouldn’t knock it. Maybe it would go nicely with Saki.

Then I came across an opinion from Jo-Ann. She says:

From what I’ve read, some areas of Southwest China DO use cheese made from cow’s/goat’s milk. It is eaten mostly by the Muslims, especially in Yunnan Province. There was a time when milk and milk products were used —during the Mongol rule— and some of the army leaders settled in the Southwest. They still use the traditional foods of that time. Some of the border areas of China in the West and Northwest use dairy products, but often by minority groups. East China and the Han Chinese is an altogether different and complex story.

Again, interesting but I’m not convinced. “There was a time” … Does that mean the cheese party came and went? And no mention of any specific cheese. Maybe the Chinese are lactose intolerant? But no, according to Jo-Ann.

Cheese, koumiss and other dairy products were used in the early dynasties. Some say that the rejection of “barbarian” food may be one reason why it didn’t remain popular. Others say that farmland, to raise cows, was at a premium and others say that the lactose problem among some Chinese was a reason. But this last can be refuted because other Asians use cheese and milk with some adjustments.

So I was pretty much hitting a dead end until a came across somebody talking about Chhurpi cheese. Evidently it is made from Yak’s milk in certain areas of the Himalayas. Yak’s milk? Yea … at least we are talking dairy now. I found this picture of Chhurpi on Google images.

Churpi Cheese from Yak's Milk

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and that picture tells a story to me. That cheese does not look very appetizing. When I think of cheese I am imaging Roquefort or Triple Cream Brie. These look like dried bananas. According to comments I found describing Chhurpi, it is like bad chewing gum. Wiki has a brief explanation of Chhurpi.

I am done with my search for gourmet Chinese cheese for now. I can remove my plan for a cheese adventure trip to China from my bucket list.

2 comments on “Chinese Cheese

  1. jjjennnnn says:

    Yak cheese is awesome.  You would grate it over noodles, etc..  I actually came upon this blog post doing a search for where I can find it.  I was in Nepal a little over a year ago and they put it on everything there.  It wasn’t long after I left that I started to miss it.  I’ve yet to find anywhere online selling it that’ll ship to Canada.

  2. I came hoping to find a source or cchurpi, sounds great to me!

    But while I’m here, on the topic, there is plenty of Chinese cheese depending what you consider “China.” Two famous cheese (at least) are alive and well in Yunnan, 乳扇 (rǔshān) and 乳饼 (rǔbǐng). Still widely consumed, mostly by Bai people (and tourists to Dali).

    Less common, there are also 大良牛乳 (Dàliáng niúrǔ), Daliang buffalo cheese from Guangdong province which is a Han thing so definitely Chinese. And then there is 奶疙瘩 (nǎi gēda), milk knot from Xinjiang and milk tofu, 奶豆腐 (nǎi dòufu) in the north near Mongolia.

    There are probably a few other cheese-type things around too. Big country.

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