Fieldwork can be frustrating, but when it works it’s incredible.
My trip to Dali has been a huge success, and for that I have to thank the owner of the handmade cheese fan shop mentioned in a previous post. She answered many of my questions about how the industry works, and for the rest, she took me around to meet farmers and producers. I’ll end with contact information for this seller, because I have now personally visited every stage of the production chain, and if people are looking for fresh cheese (奶豆腐, 奶酪) or cheese fans (rushan 乳扇), or visiting Dali and want to try some truly delicious local produce, this is the place to know.
Yesterday, I went to the place where this shop’s rushan 乳扇 is made.
The site is at the north edge of Erhai Lake, in the courtyard of a village house. The farmers deliver milk directly to the house early every morning. By the time I arrived in mod-morning, the day’s deliveries were already completed, and it was time to make the rushan.
The process was like the one I described in a previous post, but this was bigger. In one day, they process about 1.5 tons of fresh milk, and make about 150 jin (75kg) of rushan. They were very keen to emphasize this point: high quality milk makes more product. The same amount of lower quality milk would only make 120 jin of product.
I was so fixated on getting video that I didn’t get a good still photo of her setup, but the equipment still consists of a person and a stove. The basics are two burners set at 160 degrees, one bucket of milk and strong souring agent on her right, and a large bucket of weak souring agent on her left. She heats a bowl of the strong souring agent to a simmer, then adds a bowl of milk. After three minutes, the milk has curdled, and she strains it, dumping the mixed souring agent and milk whey in the bucket to her left. At the end of the day, this agent is allowed to ferment overnight, and becomes the strong agent used the next day.
The pictures don’t do her justice–with her two burners running, and it was like watching an 80s DJ spin turntables. She started the cheese in one pan, while the other pan was curdling, and meanwhile stretching the finished cheese in her hands, and wrapping it around the bamboo poles that would be left to dry in the sun.
I don’t currently have access to youtube, so the stills will have to do for the moment.
In the meantime, enjoy some pictures from a lovely day with my new friends!