Chhurpi- The lesser known Himalayan cheese.

Chhurpi- The lesser known Himalayan cheese.

For all the cheese aficionados, there’s one variety of the Himalayan cheese which is not known to many. Chhurpi is essentially cheese, which can be both hard and soft or can be sweet, tangy or bland. Now that’s confusing, right? Well, let me elucidate.

“Cheese- Milk’s leap towards immortality” – Clifton Paul Fadiman.

Found mostly in the Himalayan regions of Sikkim, West Bengal or places where you find Tibetan settlements within India, Nepal and Bhutan, chhurpi is not just another candy or lozenge, it’s a way of life. All along the streets of these places, you can spot numerous shops selling garlands of what look like hardened cheese cubes brown or white in colour. The brown ones are bland and the white ones are sweet in taste. These cheese cubes can be a little tricky for the first timers but once you start biting into it, you gradually start falling for the taste. Well, there’s another Chhurpi that you will mostly see in the local produce markets of these regions. This variety is the softer version of the same cheese but with a tangy taste.


  • Soft Chhurpi


This variety of Chhurpi is seen mostly in local markets or makeshift stalls on the way to Sikkim or Bhutan. Sold neatly packed in broad green leaves or plastic and loosely tied with a jute thread, this variety has a tangy taste and a characteristic pungent smell. It is used to make a variety of delectable recipes that are an important part of the Nepali or Bhutanese cuisine. In Nepali cuisine, chhurpi is used to make achar, dumplings, or eaten with edible ferns called Ningro in the local dialect. The achar is more or less like chutney prepared with finely sliced onions, tomatoes with lots of fiery chillies called dalle khorsani and is used as a side dish. However, in Bhutan Chhurpi is also known as Datshi and is an important ingredient of a dish called Emadatshi, which is a creamy white gravy comprising mainly of cheese (datshi), potatoes and thinly sliced chillies.

Chhurpi Datshi

Datshi or a softer variety of Chhurpi. This was at a local produce market in Bhutan.

Datshi can be made from cow’s, goat’s or yak’s milk. It has a texture similar to Cottage Cheese or Ricotta Cheese. Its characteristic tangy taste is due to the method of preparation which mainly consists of fermentation of raw milk. Raw milk is left to ferment in a warm corner in the house, followed by adding fresh milk to the fermented one over a period of say five days. When the mixture coagulates into curd, it is churned in a traditional wooden container. This continuous churning of the curd separates the butter on the top, which is then collected and kept aside. The remaining buttermilk is then heated over a burner or stove and stirred occasionally and brought to boil to yield the chhurpi. The butter obtained as a by-product is also sold in the markets, neatly packed in the same kind of leaves that are used to pack the chhurpi. Chhurpi is a rich source of good bacteria for the gut and protein. At higher altitudes or due to landslides, when the availability of fresh vegetables becomes a challenge chhurpi acts a delicious substitute for side dishes in meals.


  • Hardened Cheese or Chhurpi


This hard variety of cheese made from Yak’s milk is called Chhurpi too. It can be brown or white in colour. The white ones are sweet in taste and the brown ones are mostly tasteless. However, my personal favourite is the brown variety. Initially one may not like it but once you start biting into it, the flavour gets addictive. It has a grainy texture once bitten into for long and turns whitish exuding the milk from within. It has a smoky flavour due to the method of preparation.

Chhurpi

The white and brown variety of Hardened Cheese or Chhurpi

The method of preparation is similar as described for the softer variety with few added steps of preserving and ageing the cheese perfectly. Once the chhurpi is obtained from the buttermilk, it is wrapped in jute bags and pressed under the weight of heavy stones. Thereafter, the semi-hardened cheese is cut into long slices or larger cubes and dried further by hanging them over ceilings in kitchens just above the stove, which adds the smoky flavour to it. If you check closely, each piece has a darker brown side with imprints of the patterns from jute bags, and sometimes you may find fine jute threads stuck on the surface as well.

This Himalayan Cheese is highly preferred by hikers as an ideal tidbit that can help you climb better and keep you warm at higher altitudes. The Chhurpi sticks are also popular as pet chews for teething puppies and kittens.


Chhurpi

A local market in Gangtok, Sikkim selling both varieties of Chhurpi along with vegetables.

Chhurpi for me equates to nostalgia. Growing up in Gangtok, chhurpi was an inseparable part of my life. I loved eating it almost every day on the way to school or back home. Momos always taste better with chhurpi ko achar. Therefore, after leaving home for higher studies I always made sure I carried back enough supply of chhurpi to last me for a few months. Now that you know what those garlands of small cubes are, don’t hesitate to go ahead and taste them while travelling in these regions. Happy travelling!

  • Kritika

    A big thank you for writing about Chhurpi. I was always curious as to what these were but dint gather enough courage to explore. Now, next time, I am definitely going to give all 3 varieties a try! Also good to know that India had more to boast of other that jus cottage cheese. 🙂

    • Thanks a lot dear Kritika. This has been one of the most beautiful and kind appreciation for my piece of writing. Thank you and I am glad that you found it informative. 🙂

  • Reading about Chhurpi and the pictures in your post, makes me want to plan a trip to Sikkim/ Bhutan. Lovely write up, will keep visiting to read more of your experiences 🙂

    Cheers,
    Shalini (http://mytravelchronicle.blogspot.in/)

    • Thank you so much Shalini. That’s a motivation. 🙂

  • Faiza

    Omg! This sounds so interesting! I can’t wait to taste it one day!

    • Bidisha Banik

      Thank you so much. You must taste it, it has a strange yet addictive taste.

  • Very interesting read! Though I have traveled to these places, I was not aware of this variety of cheese:)

    • Bidisha Banik

      Thank you, next time do give it a try. When in Sikkim you can ask for the local dish called Chhurpi ko Achar (but it’s not a pickle though) which is made from the softer variety and tastes great with rice or roti. 🙂

  • I have to say it doesn’t look great, but I love cheese so I’d totally try it!

    • Bidisha Banik

      I know it doesn’t really look great or taste like cheese either :). It has a more of an acquired taste but is worth a try!

  • Fantastic post, loved reading it! 🙂

    • Thank you very much. I am glad that you liked it.