I have been waiting weeks for this post! This is one of the most interesting to me because, not only did this food sustain the Nomads for centuries, but it’s something I can actually make…if I want to go through the process. Read on!
Qurt, or qurut, or kurt-depending on where you are, is a traditional, dried, dairy product is long-lasting, easy to carry, and packed with protein and calcium.
The word is derived from the Turkish word meaning “dry” and is made by straining fermented milk from sheep, cows, camels, or mares until it’s thick enough to be rolled into balls and dried in the sun.
Gertrude Platais remembered being with some other prisoners in the Akmola Labor Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland, which was part of the Soviet gulag from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. She recalled one morning trudging to a nearby lake to gather reeds to heat their freezing sleeping quarters. They were assaulted there by children and elders from the neighboring community who began throwing small, hard, white balls at them as the guards watched and laughed.
They thought at first it was an insult, but then realized the people were secretly throwing them an edible food source when Kazakh prisoners explained what they were to them upon their return to the prison. They were a welcome supplement to the sparse prison rations.
Many different variations of qurt exist throughout Central Asia, and the Middle East. The Persians called it kashk, the Jordanians jameed, and the Armenians chortan. The portable nature and long shelf life made it the ideal road food for Central Asia’s Nomadic people. The taste has been described as “a dried and salted feta cheese” by the Kazakh historian Moldir Oskenbay.
This food source dates back to as far back as seventh century B.C., when the Scythians and other groups of herders took the versions along with them as they grazed their animals. It is so versatile it can be eaten straight, dissolved in water to create a beverage, or mixed into traditional soups and dishes such as Tajik (qurutob).
Qurt was even eaten on the battlefield of the 12th and 13th centuries A.D., because it could be transported and consumed without the need to cart around extra supplies, or cook anything because balls of qurt dissolved in water with flour or jerky made quick camp dinners.
Many, many years later, freeze-dried qurt was eaten by Soviet cosmonauts in space. Today, it is still viewed as a source of longevity, and is said to improve digestion, prevent osteoporosis, and support children’s health as well as pregnant and lactating women. If it’s kept in a dry place, it can last for years; possibly even a decade! It doesn’t need to be refrigerated either. It may not spoil but it will get very, very dry. Keep it away from humidity or it will mold. While it’s traditionally made at home, it’s now mass-produced and available at online stores and grocery stores.
Central Asian markets showcase the wild array of available qurts, such as softer “new” Qurt, rock-hard “stone” qurt, which might have been dried for many years, light brown smoked qurt, which food blogger Malika Sharipova suggests pairting with beer; qurt with red pepper, coriander, dill, mint, or basil; and shapes in varieties such as tiny spheres to apple-sized balls.
She also suggests keeping the salty cheese balls in a paper bag in the refrigerator to keep them from getting too hard, if you prefer the softer version.
I want to someday make my own, and the article provided the recipe and the method!
The rest of the post is taken directly from the article-because of it’s length, I wanted you to have the recipe and method:
Adapted from recipes by Malika Sharipova, Max Malkiel, and “Recipes from an Uzbek”
Note: Methods and terms for the various dairy products below may vary by culture and location.
2 liters of whole or low-fat milk
6 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt
Salt to taste
Dried herbs and spices to taste (optional)
To make qurt, first you need to make suzma, a creamy drained yogurt with a spreadable consistency. To make suzma, you need to make qatiq, a natural (and also delicious) drinkable yogurt. If you’d like to speed up the process, and you can find suzma for purchase in your area, you can also start there and skip to Step 3. (If you don’t have a Central Asian bazaar at your disposal, you may be able to buy suzma at a Central Asian shop like Brooklyn’s Tashkent Supermarket. Some recipes also describe how to make qurt from tvorog, a farmer’s cheese widely available at Russian grocery stores; I did not test this, but if you go this route, you’ll also want to start with Step 3 and ensure that your cheese is well drained before attempting to roll it.)
To make the qatiq, heat the milk in a pot to about 122° F (50° C). (If using unpasteurized milk, boil it first, then let it cool to this temperature.) If you don’t have a thermometer, turn the heat off when the milk is noticeably warm, but you can stand to hold your finger in it for 10 seconds without discomfort. Then stir in the yogurt. At this point, the contents of your pot will still be milky in consistency. Pour the mixture into glass jars and wrap them with towels to keep them warm; Sharipova suggests using three thick ones. (I wrapped my jars in dish towels, topped with hand towels, then covered them with a large bath towel and a blanket.) Leave the wrapped jars in a warm place and let them ferment for eight hours. Then enjoy a glass of creamy qatiq; it will be a drinkable but noticeably thicker liquid.
Now, it’s time to turn your qatiq into suzma. First, add salt to taste. Then carefully pour your qatiq into a flour sack towel. I found it easiest to do this by laying the cloth over a colander first. Secure the top of the towel with a rubber band and hang it over a bowl or your sink to drain. You can also use a cheesecloth, but make sure it’s not too gauzy. The qatiq should drip steadily as it drains, but you don’t want it to gush through all at once. Leave it for about eight hours as the whey separates.
Now we have suzma; set some aside to eat on bread or as a dip for vegetables. If you’ve purchased your suzma, it may be thick enough to begin rolling into qurt (Step 4). However, if you made your own, you may need to let it drain in the cloth for another few days to reach the optimal consistency. (I learned the hard way by trying to roll suzma that wasn’t thick enough and wound up with sticky, yogurt-covered hands.)
There is no exact timeline, but Sharipova says the suzma is ready to be rolled when you can stand a spoon in it. Mine took about two days to get there.
Once your suzma is nice and thick, add salt to taste and any additions, like ground red pepper or dried herbs. Roll it into balls, keeping in mind that smaller ones will dry quicker. (Mine were about the size of small to medium gumballs.)
Put your qurt balls on a wooden cutting board, cover them with a clean dish towel, and leave them in a warm, sunny place to dry for several days, depending on how hard you’d like them to be.
If warm and sunny is not in the cards where you live, you can use Max Malkiel’s method. (I discovered his advice after my first batch of qurt started to grow mold as it dried.) Set your oven on the lowest possible temperature—he uses 50° C, which is approximately 122° F—and place your qurt inside on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for an hour. Do not preheat the oven first.
Your qurt should now be a bit rubbery. Dry the balls with a hair dryer on full power for about 10 minutes. Set aside to dry further at room temperature. Repeat the oven and hair dryer steps three days in a row. For harder qurt, leave to dry for a few more days at room temperature.
Enjoy your qurt and go slowly. A little bit of the salty stuff goes a long way! Store in a breathable cloth bag in a dry place or in a paper bag in the fridge.”