Nepal's yak cheese is on world map
French cheesemaker Francois Driard (pictured) and his prize-winiing Yak Blue cheese from the mountains of Ramechhap district.
A French cheesemaker and his team have put Nepal on the world cheese map, with their prize-winning Yak Blue.
They did not just win a gold medal at the fourth Mondial du Fromage et des Produits Laitiers in France’s Loire Valley. It was a Super Gold Medal that Francois Driard won for the cheese from the mountains of Ramechhap district.
Held over three days this month, the fair featured over 952 cheeses from 48 countries, and drew nearly 3,000 industry professionals to the historic city of Tours.
Francois Driard is a familiar face at the farmer’s markets in Kathmandu which he helped set up over the past 12 years that he has been in Nepal to bring producers and buyers together.
When he started his cheese adventure in Nepal, Driard began with a Tomme which was easy to make as it has a short maturing time and a reliable outcome. However, Driard's cheese repertoire expanded as his customer base grew hungry for more variety. Now, his Himalayan French Cheese boasts 30 varieties of cheese made from cow, buffalo and yak milk.
“With this win, it means that now when I talk about Nepali cheeses abroad, I can actually have this medal to be proud of, and it gives me recognition,” Driard says.
The Yak Blue is a new cheese designed and created only last year, and not regularly offered in the market. “But with the medal, I don’t have a choice, I will have to make it more available,” Driard says, chuckling.
The Yak Blue came on the back of his efforts creating a mild cow’s blue in response to the strong Danish blues being imported to Nepal.
“Blue is a strong cheese and it is not to everyone’s taste. So I started making a mild cow’s blue, which I call Bluelikhel because we were making it in Dhulikhel,” Driard explains.
It was difficult because blue cheese requires colder temperatures for maturation than other cheeses, but by a stroke of luck Driard had a yak cheese factory in Serding of Ramechaap which is so high that it is naturally cold and ideal for blue.
The most thrilling aspect of winning the medal for Driard is that it is made of yak milk which is underappreciated in the cheese industry.
“We couldn’t make the Yak Blue without yak milk, so the medal is a validation of a product that is available only in certain parts of the world, Nepal being one of them,” he explains.
Yaks graze at up to 5,000m, and during the cheese production window between March and November they are not fed anything but wild grass and flowers, giving their milk a very Nepali terroir. A yak produces only up to 1.5 litres of milk a day, so the goodness of the Himalayan alpage is concentrated in the milk, giving the cheese its richness.
The farm in Ramechhap is providing local jobs, and yak herders who had migrated to the Gulf are returning because of the demand for Himalayan cheese.
Driard believes Nepal can provide organic premium food to the rest of Asia, and hopes that Nepal could be synonymous with premium products like organic coffee, honey, vegetables, cheese and meat.
“From Shanghai to Singapore, from Bangkok to Hong Kong, people should know that Nepal’s pristine environment can provide very high, premium quality products,” says Driard, pointing out that a major hurdle is that dairy products from Nepal are banned in the EU because it is on the red-list for foot-and-mouth disease.
Nepal government could easily get off the list if it wanted with some lobbying. If that happens, Nepali dairy products like Chhurpi dog chews, cheeses, milk, yoghurt could have access to the EU market.
But for now, Driard is preparing his next batch of Yak Blue which should be ready in two weeks.
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