Yosha: the fer­mented gold of Merak

Business Bhutan - - Nation - Jigme Wangchen From Merak, Trashigang

With re­cent de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­i­ties touch­ing the re­mote high­lands of the coun­try, Merak ge­wog in Trashigang Dzongkhag is one place that is chang­ing fast.

Within a few years of de­vel­op­ment, many things have changed in the land of the Brokpas.

But one tra­di­tion that is thriv­ing and even flour­ish­ing is the mak­ing of yosha (fer­mented cheese). In fact, yosha busi­ness has al­ways been vi­brant and alive. Mer­ak­pas con­sider it a del­i­cacy and some­times of great medic­i­nal worth.

Vis­i­tors to Merak feel that their jour­ney is in­com­plete if they do not buy at least a kilo­gram of Yosha.

Known by dif­fer­ent names such asyet­paa and zoe­toe in other parts of the coun­try, many vis­i­tors buy it for them­selves while some buy it as a gift for oth­ers be­cause it is greatly loved by peo­ple across the coun­try.

Ten­zin Dema, a Mer­akpa woman’s one storey house is filled with a strong stench that forces it­self into one’s head and dwell in for days. The warm rooms are all filled with the smell.

She is pack­ing a yosha as she has re­ceived an or­der from Rangjung. “A shop­keeper called me up in the morn­ing ask­ing me to send him five ki­los of yosha.”

She is sell­ing a yosha which has been fer­mented only for five months at Nu. 500 per kilo.

The ones that are avail­able in the mar­ket to­day are fer­mented for only three to four months.

Ten­zin Dema said that the yosha that are fer­mented for more than three years are pre­cious. “We don’t sell the yosha that are fer­mented for more than three years as we con­sider it spe­cial,” she said. “Our par­ents say that if we add the spe­cial yosha in ara and drinks, it acts like medicine.”

Yosha is ex­tra­or­di­nary as it takes years to age and be ready. More­over, it takes spe­cial skills to make it.

An el­derly high­lander, Ap Sangchuk, 63, said that to pre­pare good yosha, the yak cheese should be mod­er­ately dry be­fore it is stuffed. “If we don’t drain the wa­ter com­pletely, the fi­nal prod­uct will be squishy and we will not get good yosha, “he picks a fer­mented yosha and dis­plays it.

It takes time to seal the mouth of the hide bag as it re­quires hand-stitch. But stitch­ing the bag be­comes easy if the bag is stored near the oven and soaked in hot wa­ter.

“Yosha is an im­por­tant source of in­come for us,” he says. “Yosha is val­ued more than meat by the high­landers.”

Usu­ally, the high­landers of Merak make yosha be­tween March and Oc­to­ber. The sealed hide bag must be kept near the heat for about a month. Once the bag be­comes hard from the out­side, it is moved away from the heat.

How­ever, it re­quires con­stant mon­i­tor­ing and it takes more than a year for the cheese inside to har­den.

“The color of the fer­mented cheese needs to turn brown­ish as the yosha is good yosha if its color turns brown,” says Ap Sangchuk.

There is a high de­mand for yosha out­side Merak. A kilo­gram of well-fer­mented yosha sells for about Nu. 500 in Merak and Nu. 600 in nearby places. How­ever, it costs more than Nu. 800 when it reaches Thim­phu.

Lanor-Tshogpa, a dairy co­op­er­a­tive, which was started back in 1995, helps the high­landers in mar­ket­ing the yosha.

Nim Dorji who heads the tshogpa said that un­like in the past the yosha is bot­tled and sold as the tshogpa sup­plies the fer­mented cheese to the bor­der ar­eas.

The ge­wog cen­ter road has helped high­landers to sup­ply yosha not only within the coun­try but to the bor­der as well.

Nim Dorji said that the tshogpa sup­plies fer­mented cheese to the bor­der ar­eas of Sam­drup Jongkhar, Trashiyangtse and to as far as Tawang, Arun­chal Pradesh in India. “The de­mand for fer­mented cheese in these ar­eas is very high.”

Though the road con­nec­tiv­ity in Merak has led to di­lu­tion of tra­di­tion and cul­ture of the high­land com­mu­nity, it has ac­tu­ally helped the yosha busi­ness, es­pe­cially the mar­ket­ing and sup­ply of the prod­uct.

Though pre­par­ing yosha is an ar­du­ous job, most fam­i­lies earn more than Nu 100,000 an­nu­ally from the sale of yosha.

How­ever, Nim Dorji said that if there was an agent for yosha in ev­ery dzongkhag to help mar­ket the prod­uct, the yosha busi­ness would turn even more lu­cra­tive.

To­day, the Lanor Tshogpa has 20 mem­bers and two more sim­i­lar groups have been formed in Merak to help mar­ket the yosha.

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