Yosha, the highlander’s speciality

Yosha, the highlander’s speciality

I am in Merak, Trashigang, the land of yosha, fermented cheese with a noxious stench so overwhelmingly commanding that can leave one effortlessly limp and woozy, vastly vanquished, and in profound delirium. That wicked odour, so villainous in its airy nature, has a way to force into one’s head and therein dwell for days, perverting and twisting the very dignity, sanity, and lucidity, of one’s hitherto unmolested senses.

In other parts of the country yosha is also widely known as zoetoe.


This supreme delicacy of the highlanders this side of the mountains north is Bhutan’s answer to Sweden’s brain-numbing, puke-roiling and sense-banishing herring rot, Surströmming.

Here in Merak, in this community of tough and weather-beaten herders, yosha goes with everything, except perhaps with tea. In a place where this delicacy is so sincerely loved, so zealously guarded, and so dedicatedly devoured, one can never be sure.

What makes yosha so special?

 

First, it takes special skills to make it. Second, it takes years to age and be ready. It’s a true labour of love, the making of this nose-turningly pungent lump of yak cheese.

Rinchen Tashi, a robust highlander, is busy preparing one. He picks a half-filled hide bag that he had hand-stitched, stored near the oven, and soaked in hot water. Soaking the hide bag will make stitching the mouth of the bag easy. Slowly and carefully, he starts filling the hide bag with yak cheese, water completely drained.

The texture of the cheese before it is stuffed should be moderately dry, says Rinchen Tashi, feeling it with his fingers (one could mistake them for a rhizome of a ginger). That’s a prerequisite for a smacking good yosha.
“If we don’t drain the water completely, the final product will be mushy and there are chances of maggots infesting the cheese,” he says with an air of an expert flaunting his talent.

It is an arduous job, making yosha. It takes nearly two hours for Rinchen Tashi to seal the mouth of the hide bag. Dark juice of dirt from his hands seeps into the bag.

“Now, that, is the secret. It add this one extra flavour,” says Rinchen Tashi, smiling. And so it is valued more than meat, or anything, in the lives of the highlanders here. “Yosha is an important source of our income.”

The highlanders of Merak make yosha between March and October. The sealed hide bag must be kept near the hearth for about a month. It requires constant and expert monitoring. Once the hide bag becomes hard from the outside, it is moved away from the heat. Generally, it takes one year for the cheese inside to harden. Its colour will be brownish.

“A yosha is a good yosha only if it has turned brown in the inside. It will taste very good,” says Rinchen Tashi.

People would usually preserve yosha for more than three years. But now because the climate has become warmer, one year is enough to produce a well-fermented cheese.

“If the duration exceeds one year, the cheese inside gets powdery and will be infested with maggots,” says Rinchen Tashi. “And that’s no good.”

There is a high demand for yosha outside Merak. Most of the herders sell the cheese that has been fermented only for about five months. Typically, the ones that are available in the market today are fermented for only about four months. A kilogram of well-fermented Yosha sells for about Nu 600. The ones that are fermented for just about five months go at Nu 400 per kg or less.

“The ones that have aged more than a year, we keep them for ourselves,” says Rinchen Tashi. “They are considered delicious and precious. We stow them away for special occasions.”

Although with modern development a lot of things have changed in the highland, the tradition of making yosha is still strong. For now at least, it is.

It is lunchtime, almost. I can smell yosha frothing on the stove. I think of an episode from Man Vs Wild in some distant Himalayas.

Related Posts

Meet Bhutan's cerebral palsy 'foot' artist Pema Tshering

He was abandoned after his parents found out he had cerebral palsy. But a chance meeting with the Queen Mother turned...

May 20, 2018 14:28

How Social Media Is Changing Lhuentse – A Remote Province In...

Lhuentse has achieved over 98% of telecommunication connectivity.

May 15, 2018 15:23

Bhutanese Architect Bags US$10,000 UN Environment Sustainability...

Deependra Pourel’s wish is to contribute his knowledge and experience to support Bhutan’s vision for a more efficiently...

May 10, 2018 13:58

Bhutanese And Singaporean Painters Showcase Artwork In Charity...

A total of 25 artists came together to showcase their artwork in a joint exhibition by VAST Bhutan and Drukpa Singapore.

May 05, 2018 22:19

Combating Fallow Land in Bhutan

This phenomenon - the fallowing of land has been increasing over the years, causing concern to both villagers and...

Apr 25, 2018 00:10

Latest

News

15th National Job Fair Offered Over 3,600 Vacancies Overseas And In Bhutan

Companies from Kuwait, India and officials from the language institutes in Japan also offered job opportunities and trainings at the fair.

May 20, 2018 08:52

Bhutan Observes World Telecommunications And Information Society Day

The theme of the celebration this year is “Enabling the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for all.”

May 18, 2018 14:27

Features

The Need For A Trauma Registry In Bhutan And How It Will Improve The Emergency Medical Services In The Country

May 21, 2018 16:12

Meet Bhutan's cerebral palsy 'foot' artist Pema Tshering

He was abandoned after his parents found out he had cerebral palsy. But a chance meeting with the Queen Mother turned his life around.

May 20, 2018 14:28

Sports

Indian Athletes In Bhutan For High-Altitude Training Ahead Of Asian Games

Athletes from many sports use high-altitude training for a few weeks before a major match or event.

May 21, 2018 11:15

Bhutanese Athletes Preparing For The Tokyo Olympics

Japanese coaches and experts will visit Bhutan to train the athletes in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

May 05, 2018 15:46

Business

Azista Bhutan - A Pharmaceutical Plant To Be Set Up In Samdrup Jongkhar In 2019

The ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the pharmaceutical plant at Motanga Industrial Park was held on 17 May.

May 19, 2018 00:35

Seven Business Ideas Win Cash Prizes At The Business Idea Competition Of Bhutan

"A business idea’s real worth lies in the successful execution and not in the idea itself."

May 14, 2018 10:58

Travel

Therapeutic Power of the Gasa Hot Springs

Known for its healing powers, the Gasa tshachu attracts about 3,000 visitors every year, making it the most visited places of the country’s...

Apr 29, 2018 03:45

New Film Shows How These Elite Runners Finished World's Hardest Trek In Just 2 Weeks

It usually takes a month to complete the Snowman Trek, but this group of athletes have done it in just two weeks.

Apr 23, 2018 10:41

Lifestyle

Dish8Door Delivers Food And Happiness Right To Your Doorstep

Dish8Door is a delivery service with the motto ‘You Pick, We Deliver’.

May 17, 2018 17:17

A Woman Of Pure Heart Wins Best Short Film Award

A film with a message, A Woman Of Pure Heart touches on various social issues in Bhutan.

May 08, 2018 18:33

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!