May 092008

Salt Spring yaks
I am merely a mid-grade foodie. (What an awful word.)

That is kind of a confession.

For example, there is only one kind of salt in my kitchen. (Ok, two. Oh, wait – three. But they’re not frou-frou salts. They’re all white.) I do not peel the skin off tomatoes prior to making a sauce. I don’t know how to lard a pheasant and neither favour nor disfavour durian (having never tried it).

As an occasional flicker-through of food magazines in the grocery store line-up and skimmer of food blogs, though, I am occasionally aware of the latest food fad. (Was food always subject to fashions? I don’t remember this as a kid, but, then again, maybe that explains the whole “Cooking with Campbells” cuisine of my childhood. Where fashion is concerned, we often look back in anger. Let that be a warning to us.)

My food fad alarm bells started ringing when I read Harold McGee’s recent column in the N.Y. Times on the health benefits of yak cheese. Harold McGee is a food / science writer whose work On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen should be distributed by The Gideon Society. (I stole that from Dean Allen.)

McGee’s article is about the general flakiness of testing standards that lead to dubious claims of health benefits for particular foods. Among other examples, he talks about a recent claim that yak-milk cheese contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than found in Canadian cheddar.

Nutrition, whatever, yadda yadda – yak milk cheese?!?!?!

Initial reaction: FOOD FAD!!! Someday soon I will be at a cocktail party where everyone will rave about the fabulous yak’s milk cheese brought by some foodie trend-setter who special-ordered it from Nepal. Next I will be at some less chichi function and three people will bring yak’s milk cheese, purchased from Les Amis du Fromage or Granville Island. Next I will see it on sale at Safeway and someone will bring it on a cheese platter (adorned with Ritz crackers) to a family pot-luck.

Confession: I WANT TO EAT IT! Even if that makes me a hypocrite, one who both slags the fad and jumps on the band-wagon. I want to eat it because it is cheese; I want to eat it because it is weird; I want to eat it because it is made from a yak; and I want to eat it because it might finally, after all these years, get the awful, disgusting, gag-inducing taste of yak-butter tea out of my mouth.

There are times in your life when, no matter how much your stomach coils and your throat contracts and your eyes water and your mucous membranes make mucous, you have to eat (or drink) what is given to you. When kindly country people in a remote area of Nepal spontaneously offer their friendship and hospitality over a steaming cup of tea liberally laced with rancid yak grease and salt, you suck it up. Literally.

And you smile and silently reflect for a moment on the incredible good fortune that allowed you to experience the horrors of yak-butter tea.

 Posted by at 10:52 am

  One Response to “Food fads and yak products”

  1. I love your position on yak cheese. It is different, it will always be rare, and it is GOOD! The butter is even better if fresh and stored by modern standards. Yaks are not everywhere in the US and Canada but they are showing up on small farms where folks are discovering how great a multi purpose animal they are. These are the places you will find great yak butter, yogurt, and cheese.
    Thnaks for the great post!

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